Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Spring Delights

Laurel Creek Conservation Area
25 April 2014


    Just when you think the cattails and the water are empty, you hear the distinctive call of a male Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus and voilà, there he is in all his glory, displaying his strength and prowess to every passing female.


    A careful scan revealed several other species, but few within photographic range. Small rafts of Ring-necked Ducks Aytha collaris, common at this time of year, swam close by, revealing just how undescriptively this duck was named by an early biologist in a bad mood!




Friday, 25 April 2014

Alleghedi Plains, Ethiopia

Alleghedi Plains, Ethiopia
24 January 2014

    A journey across the Alleghedi Plains was very productive in terms of birds, not only in the variety of species but in the sheer numbers of some of them.
    This Eastern Chanting Goshawk Melierax poliopterus was one of several sighted; always eliciting appreciative comments. Chanting Goshawks in general are among the most beautiful of raptors it seems to me, and one is always impressed by the elegance of their form.



    This tree full of Ring-necked Doves Streptopelia capicola was not far away from the Eastern Chanting Goshawk, and since small game birds such as doves are known to form a significant part of this raptor's diet, I wondered whether it was waiting for an opportunity to strike.


    Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris were quite common and small coveys were frequently seen ambling across the grassland.


    Nile Valley Sunbird Hedydipna metallica is quite range-restricted and this was the only area where, and the only day when, we saw this beautiful species. It took us a while to find our first bird, after that we succeeded in seeing several.


    This was also our only location for Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus, but it was quick to fly off and I was only able to get this picture from behind.


    Although I have covered Northern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicus in a previous post, this gorgeous species deserves another mention, especially as it rests here in a tree filled with Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica.


    We found this stick insect and although I have no idea what it is called (if anyone knows please let me know), but it seems incredible to me that all of its brain functions could be contained in so fragile a body. There is hardly any mass to it at all.




    White-bellied Bustard Eupodotis senegalensis was hardly common, and was able to conceal itself in the grass very successfully but we did manage to see a few of them.



    Abyssinian Roller Coracius abyssinicus, stunningly beautiful, was fairly common, but always appreciated.


    The odd-looking Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis was generally found in close proximity to water, but its cryptic colouration often made it hard to spot.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Easter Weekend in Ottawa

Easter Weekend in Ottawa
Petrie Islands Park

    We spent Easter in Ottawa visiting my daughter, Caroline, son-in-law, Andrew and two grandchildren, Sam and Will.
    During our time there we meandered through Petrie Islands Park three times to do a little birding. When Sam and Will were quite a bit younger we had visited the same location in January where we were able to show them their first ever Great Grey Owls Strix nebulosa.



    Given the severity of the recent winter and the huge amount of snow deposited, none of which ever melted during the cold months, it was not surprising to find a good deal of the park under water.



    There was a wide variety of bird life, however, and given fairly warm temperatures, it was very pleasant indeed to explore the various habitats enjoying both the auditory and visual sensations of spring migration. All of the trails were submerged but we managed to pick our way through the woods without even getting our feet wet!
    Numerous male Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia trilled from high perches, proclaiming territory and advertising for a mate, while periodically descending to ground to find food.


    American Robins Turdus migratorius probed among the leaf litter, tossing it aside vigorously to find whatever tidbits lay concealed beneath.


    The activities of American Beavers Castor canadensis seemed to be everywhere, with many more trees being accessible due to the flooding, but given their nocturnal habits we never actually saw an animal.


    Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers Sphyrapicus varius have returned in good numbers and this male had chosen the metal post of a parking lot sign from which to drum and announce his availability to any interested female.




    In the following picture you can clearly see the nictitating membrane being drawn across the eye as a protection against flying bits of debris.


      Muskrats obviously found the submerged habitat much to their liking and they were easily found going about their business. They seemed to have no difficulty finding new sources of food on what would normally be dry ground some distance from their watery haunts.



     It was a very pleasant surprise to find numerous Rusty Blackbirds Euphagus carolinus, a species that has experienced very serious population declines in recent years. Usually this is a bird I am able to find more easily in the fall; it is rare that I see them in the spring.



    Both Golden-crowned Kinglets Regulus satrapa and Ruby-crowned Kinglets Regulus calendula were present, but we were only able to photograph Golden-crowned as they flitted around in constant motion.


    As might be expected Mallards Anas platyrynchos wasted no time in exploiting the abundance of new habitat, entirely suited to their needs.


    Eastern Garter Snakes Thamnophis sirtalis have emerged from their hibernaculae and this handsome individual was very cooperative in terms of being photographed.




    We heard Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus several times and saw one briefly as it flew from a tree deep into the woods and out of sight, but evidence of their activity was not hard to find.





    Several amphibians were seen, but this Northern Leopard Frog Rana pipiens was the only one that permitted a photograph. Others dived into the frigid water and submerged instantly.




    All in all it was a fine place to visit and there were many people walking around and enjoying the first promise of spring after a long and arduous winter, the worst in living memory in many parts of the country.

    Caroline, Andrew, Sam and Will look quite content to be enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.



Thursday, 17 April 2014

Yellow-breasted Barbet

Yellow-breasted Barbet Trachyphonus margaritatus
Bilen, Ethiopia
23 January 2014

    African barbets in general are spectacular, perhaps none more so than Yellow-breasted Barbet. We saw this species on only a few days and even then it was not plentiful. It typically frequents rough terrain, acacia woodland, wadis and sandy plains where termite mounds provide nesting sites. It feeds primarily on a wide range of insectivorous prey including species as large as mantids, locusts and grasshoppers.



White-headed Buffalo Weaver

White-headed Buffalo Weaver Dinemellia dinemelli
Bilen, Ehtiopia
23 January 2015

    We saw this handsome species on numerous occasions during our journey through Ethiopia and it was never shy around human settlement. It forages on the ground for insects, especially beetles and butterflies. Breeding pairs are monogamous and build their nest together.



Monday, 14 April 2014

Northern Carmine Bee-eater

Northern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicus
Awash Falls National Park, Ethiopia
23 January 2014

    Surely one of the most beautiful birds in all the world, I found Carmine Bee-eater to be one of the most memorable species I have ever seen. Gregarious and confiding, they seemed not to be at all affected by our presence and we were thrilled at the large numbers we saw. I think I would have been quite happy to have simply watched them all day!






Awash Falls National Park

Awash Falls National Park, Ethiopia
23 January 2014

    There were huge numbers of Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii in appropriate habitat at Awash Falls National Park, often in close association with African Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca.
   They were prone to flush at the slightest provocation, usually undetected by us.

Abdim's Storks in flight

Abdim's Storks in flight

African Sacred Ibis with Egyptian Goose
   
Abdim's Stork with Africa Sacred Ibis
    We saw Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops quite frequently although rarely in a position for a decent photograph.