Saturday, 29 November 2014

Roundup of the Past Two Days

Toronto, ON
27/28 November 2014

     The days were grey for the most part as I scoured the various bays and coves along the shore. The image of downtown Toronto across the lake was seldom out of view.


     I was looking for duck species that might have arrived since my last forays along the lake, species such as Canvasback Aythya valisineria and the three species of Scoter, but none were to be found. There were several rafts of ducks far out from shore and without the benefit of a scope at the time I could not identify them. Even had I had my scope with me the ducks were far out and identification might still have been impossible, but scoters are likely at this time of the year. 
     You may recall that I recently located a Canada Goose Branta canadensis wearing a green neck tag and I found yet another. It is hardly surprising, perhaps, since they were almost certainly marked in the same natal region and probably journeyed south together. I am still awaiting news as to where these birds originated.


     As I look at this neck collar I must admit to being a little repulsed by it. It looks ugly and would seem to impede the bird's ability to preen. I watched it feeding and it appeared not to hinder this activity in any way. 

Note added on 3 December: I have been notified that this bird is a female and was banded in Ottawa, ON by Christopher Sharp on 11 April 2012.

     American Robin Turdus migratorius is primarily migratory, and most have now departed, but there are always some birds that exploit micro climates and abundant berry crops, and spend the winter in our area. So long as they are able to find food they seem to withstand the cold temperatures without difficulty.


     Most Trumpeter Swans Olor buccinator one sees have large yellow wing tags, so it was particularly pleasing to see this individual sans adornment.


     American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus are now well established along the shore of the lake and I think I saw them at every location I checked.






     I am always particularly sad when I see an injured bird that I am unable to help. The only thing one can hope for under such circumstances is a speedy end for the suffering bird. This American Black Duck Anas rubripes appeared to have a severely broken leg and could neither walk nor swim. 



     No doubt it is entirely fanciful on my part, but at one point several Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis appeared to encircle it in some kind of protective fashion. None of them showed any aggression to a defenceless bird as might perhaps have been expected.

     Ring-billed Gulls were common, of course, loafing both on land and on the water.



     Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis have colonized Lake Ontario for the winter and will be an almost guaranteed sighting any time one visits the shore. There were several little groups close inshore and their chattering was a delight to the ears. How handsome is this male!



     Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator are also very common and easy to find. In fact yesterday all three species of merganser were not difficult to spot.



     Now it remains to see what surprises await on the next visit.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Recent Bird Sightings

Waterloo County, ON

     The recent cold snap which was felt over much of the continent has ended, at least in this area, and we now have grey skies and rain. I very much prefer cold temperatures and snow! Right now the snow is turning to slush and in some areas there is danger of flooding.
     Despite the weather, I have managed a few interesting shots, principal among them this gorgeous little American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea which was feeding on the seeds of weedy plants near Creekside Church.


     This hardy species breeds in the far north, on the taiga and tundra, nesting in dwarf willow, stunted birch or spruce. Following the breeding season it migrates south and spends the winter at our latitude. One of the favourite pieces of art that I have is of a single individual perched on a branch, almost devoid of leaves - a sure sign that fall has arrived.
     As might be expected our bird feeders have been well-patronized of late, and the following image shows an adult House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus at the left and a juvenile at the right.


     Here you see the little feather tufts on the juvenile's head, the last remnants of its down.


     American Goldfinches Pinus tristis are regulars; some have not yet lost all of their yellow breeding plumage.


     This shot illustrates the size difference between American Goldfinch and House Finch.


     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis can always be counted on to snag the seeds dropped onto the ground by the other birds.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Northern Pintail (Canard pilet) and Pals

Cunningham Pond
Maple, ON
20 November 2014

     Given the truly unbelievable proportions of the snowfall on Buffalo, NY over the past few days, we escaped relatively lightly. We don't share the lake effect which gives them so much precipitation, but geographically we are not far away. 
     It is still a full month until the winter solstice, but recent temperatures in our area have dipped to minus 12 Celcius and snowfall has been significant. Most small ponds are now completely frozen over and even larger areas of still water have significant ice cover.
     This was the situation at Cunningham Pond this morning. I would estimate that 90% of the surface water was frozen.
     Canada Geese Branta canadensis and Mallards Anas platyrynchos occupied the open water, with large numbers compressed into a small area.



     I scanned the flocks carefully and was rewarded when I caught the merest glimpse of a Northern Pintail Anas acuta behind a Canada Goose.


     Most of the birds were resting, with relatively little movement, so I waited patiently until a the inevitable squabbling started to occur and the birds shifted position. I got a better look.


     After a few more minutes several of the Canada Geese started to flap their wings and immerse themselves in the water and I was rewarded with a clear line on this male Northern Pintail, a bird which I have had very little success photographing in the past.



     I was happy that I had decided to wait it out.


     As might be expected many gulls were present also, including several American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus, recently arrived in this area.







     Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis seemed to be pretty content to simply snooze on the ice.




     

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Today's Feeder Birds

Waterloo, ON
19 November 2014

     There's nothing quite like a good snowfall and cold temperature to increase the traffic at the bird feeders. Today was no exception. It was rarely that we looked out to find no birds present.
     This handsome male Northern Cardinal secured a place at one of the feeders and fed for quite some time before flying away. He should be well fortified for a while.




     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis tend to feed primarily on the ground, but at least one male and one female seem to have become accustomed to taking their place at the feeders. These pictures are of the male.



     A White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis has become a regular of late and visits the feeder in rapid bursts. It quickly gets food, either eats it immediately, or more often flies off with it to cache it under the bark of nearby trees. In short order it returns to repeat the process.



     This Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura was perched in the birch tree, puffed up against the wind, waiting for enough seeds to have been scattered on the ground to make it worthwhile to land and eat.


     This squirrel had the same idea and seemed to be finding lots of seed buried beneath the snow.



Winter Humour

     I usually don't post this kind of stuff, but this one really tickled my funny bone, especially so when I look out at the blanket of snow everywhere.



Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning (LALL)

Wondering As We Wander: A Geographical Journey Through Our Physical World
Professor: Jerry Salloum

     Waterloo is very fortunate to have two highly acclaimed universities, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. 
     Laurier has a wonderful programme aimed specifically at having adults, especially seniors, continue on a learning path for their entire lives, and they present a whole range of courses covering many disciplines and interests.
    Thus it was that I signed up for the above course this year. It comprised a series of six lectures, each running from 09:30 through 11:20. The fee is a very modest $70.00, well within the reach of most people. The course was completely sold out.
     Our lecturer was Jerry Salloum, a person well versed in earth sciences and a wonderful, engaging fellow who presented the material in a fabulous way so that everyone became immediately engrossed in the course.

Jerry Salloum
     I looked forward to every session with eager anticipation and the fact that all the seats were filled indicates that everyone else did too. I was there simply to learn - no exams, no labs, no pressure. The quest for knowledge was the only prerequisite.

     Here is the programme which Jerry presented:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Learning: Wondering, Transfer and Defamiliarization.
Lecture 2: Wondering about the biggest entity of all - The Cosmos.
Lecture 3: Investigating our closest natural satelite - the moon.
Lecture 4: Journeys to a high altitude world - Mount Everest.
Lecture 5: Secrets uncovered in the ocean floor - sea floor spreading.
Lecture 6: Probing treasures in the earth's largest ice cube - Antarctica.

     We were on the edge of our seats for each session. I learned so much and had my eyes opened to theories, facts and concepts that I had never before considered. 
     Ironically, today, the final session, had the smallest participation of any class, principally due to the fact that we had an overnight winter storm with substantial snowfall, and the temperature when I left home was minus eleven degrees Celcius.
     Here are a few pictures of other members of the class.





     Break time was often spent talking to Jerry.


     Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, Jerry wears his course on his head!


     And a couple of other participants.



     I will be checking out the next round of courses carefully, but if Jerry's name is attached to any of them, that might just be reason enough to sign up.