Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Morning at River Song

St. Jacobs, ON
29 May 2015

     John Pries, a long-standing member of Waterloo Region Nature, and his wife, Susan are the proprietors of River Song Banquet Hall on Hawkesville Road.


     The property is situated on five acres of diverse natural habitat along the Conestogo River where John, a dedicated naturalist, is fortunate to have what amounts to his own little nature preserve. Some of the views along the river are quite lovely.

     During our visit we purchased coffee and delicious baked goods from Susan and took them down to the river's edge where we could observe nature in all its spring glory to our heart's content.
     Both Midland Painted Turtles Chremys picta marginata and Snapping Turtles Chelydra serpentina are residents in the creek and John monitors their nesting activity in the spring, and goes to great lengths to protect a percentage of their nests from various predators who are keenly aware of the turtles laying, and are anxious to feed on the rich source of protein the eggs provide.

     John is diligent about not safeguarding all of the eggs and permits some nests to be vulnerable to predation as nature befits.
     The protected nests above contain eggs just laid by painted turtles and this anthropogenic intervention will assure that at least some young will ultimately make it to the water to embark on their precarious path to adulthood.
     Very kindly, John removed the cover from a clutch of eggs he had protected just the previous night and carefully cleared away the soil so that we could observe an egg.

      The egg was then very carefully put back in the same orientation before it was removed, and all of the soil replaced on top of it.
     As might be expected the creeks are home to numerous species of reptiles and amphibians and we had many excellent views of Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana .

     This American Toad Bufo americanus stayed clear of the water and tried to hide itself in the grass.

     Bracket fungi abounded and this configuration seemed particularly interesting.

     An Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe was sitting on its nest, but the location did not lend itself to great pictures. 

     However, we did see this adult bird with a caterpillar in its bill; perhaps there are already young in the nest and hungry mouths to feed.

     Just before arriving at the banquet hall we snapped this Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus on a fence and I include the picture here to show two members of the large tyrant flycatcher family together.

     A colony of American Cliff Swallows Petrochelidon pyrrhonota are in residence on the bridge crossing the river and the whole place was buzzing with commotion and activity.

     We spent a very pleasant hour and a half or so and saw many other species not covered here. If you are planning to be in the area be sure to give John a call. I have no doubt that he would be willing to show you the treasures of his property and share his fine knowledge of the natural world. And I guarantee you a mouth-watering delight if you splurge on some of Susan's fine baking.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Peregrine Falcon (Faucon pèlerin) Chicks Banded

     Some of you may recall my earlier post about the establishment of a nest box for Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus in Kitchener ( 
     The nest was very successful and four healthy youngsters are now growing strong, tended to by attentive and hard-working parents. Recently these birds were banded by the Canadian Peregrine Foundation and a great deal of publicity accompanied the event.
     Here is the bander's tool kit.

   As is customary in situations like this the young birds are named, although I am not quite sure why this should be. Waterloo Region Nature had the option to pick one name and we chose Redbud for a female bird. The other names were selected by the host television station and were Ginnie and Chroma for two other females, and Reggie for the only male. 
     Each bird was carefully handled as the bands with their identification number were attached to one of the bird's legs.

     Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment I was unable to be present at the banding, but Dale Ingrey, the stalwart from our club who has been deeply involved with this programme for many years was there to represent us.

     All the while, the mother of the chicks, Mystery, was not happy with the whole sequence of events and screamed from above until her offspring were returned to the nest.

     The entire sequence was covered on CTV news that day and this picture shows Lyndsay Morrison, the weather reporter, Matthew Richards, a CTV producer, and Dale each holding a young bird.

     There is a webcam in operation where the birds can be viewed in real time. They are healthy, well-fed and we all earnestly hope destined for a long and productive life.
     All of the photographs were supplied by Don Thomas and I appreciate being able to use them on my blog.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Bird Bander's Surprises

     As recently mentioned Miriam and I regularly check in with our bird banding friends to see which species they have been capturing in their mist nets.
    On Sunday they were able to show us a couple of real oddities. Firstly a Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater laid an egg in the bag used to carry her back from the mist net to the banding table.

     A Brown-headed Cowbird is an obligate brood parasite and it seems clear that this individual was exactly ready to deposit her egg in the nest of a host species at the moment of capture, and since the egg was ready for expulsion from the cloacal orifice it had no choice but to expel it.

     The second unusual event is perhaps even more intriguing. The picture below shows the rectrices of a male American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla. 

     Curiously the left side of the tail shows the colour normally associated with a male, the right side the yellow tinge of a female.
     For the banders, Kevin Grundy and Ross Dickson, both of whom have a long record of bird banding, it was the first time they had been presented with this kind of anomaly.
     A couple of days earlier on a walk through RIM Park, we were treated to a splendid day along the Grand River.

     American Goldfinches Spinus tristis were busy gathering nesting material.

     A House Wren Troglodytes aedon was singing incessantly from a high perch.

     Wild Columbines Aquilegia canadensis were blooming in the woodlands.

     It was fortunate that this Willow Flycatcher Empidonax trailli was singing.

     Without hearing its vocalizations it is impossible to distinguish this species from the basically identical Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Black-billed Cuckoo (Coulicou à bec noir)

     Every Thursday and Sunday I monitor a route for rare, a local land trust and research facility. Miriam always accompanies me on the Sunday route and before actually embarking on our survey we always check in with the guys who are operating a banding station. Last week we arrived just as they had banded a Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus.

     This species is unusual in that it feeds readily on tent caterpillars, a prey which most other species avoid. Periodically, tent caterpillars which are moderately sized species in the genus Melacosoma and in the moth family Lasiocampidae, are irruptive and this year appears to be one of those times.

     Subsequently, Miriam and I heard a Black-billed Cuckoo during our walk and three others had been banded last time I checked. So, there appears to be a correlation between a tent caterpillar outbreak and the abundance of Black-billed Cuckoos. Quite how this knowledge becomes known to the cuckoos I am unable to explain.
     Mayapples Podophyllum peltatum are now in flower and the forest floor was adorned with this species.

     Bracket fungi, which for some reason hold a special fascination for me, were commonly found, some quite magnificent in their size, colouration and structure.

     These organisms are among the many groups of fungi that comprise the phylum Basidiomycota. Ultimately they cause the death of the tree, thereby returning its nutrients to the cycle of growth in a healthy forest.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Buff-bellied Pipit (Pipit d'Amérique)

     Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens is known in North America as American Pipit, and was formerly conspecific with Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta. 
     It occurs in our area only as a spring and fall migrant on its way to or from rocky, sloping tundra in high latitudes where it breeds, usually close to water. 

     Miriam and I were delighted to discover nineteen individuals in a field of last year's corn stubble, scurrying around and searching for food. It is a fairly nondescript species and it was the movement and short bursts of flight that first attracted us to their presence, before we heard them over the noise of the car engine. It was only when we shut off the motor and settled in to enjoy them that their vocalizations became clear and audible.

     In another field close by, we detected a pair of Killdeer Charadrius vociferus with young. 

     As can be seen in the photograph above the young birds camouflage well with their surroundings, but the mother quickly called them to her while the male tried to distract us with a broken-wing display.

     The precocial offspring of this species are equipped for life from the moment they leave the egg, but many hazards await them on their journey to adulthood.

     We can only hope that the care of dedicated and resourceful parents will assure their survival so that they too can return next year to breed.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Bella and the Birds

     Next door to us live two little girls, Sophie and Gabriella (Bella). We have known both of them since virtually the day they were born and they are very precious to us. In fact they refer to us as Grandpa Dave and Gramiam (a combination of Grandma and Miriam) and in every respect but biology they are effectively our grandchildren.
    Sophie is the older of the two and now attends senior kindergarten every weekday, but at least twice a week Bella comes to visit. She is just three years old, although on the cusp of her fourth birthday. She is entranced by birds and recently has decided that Grandpa Dave needs help keeping a list of the birds in the backyard. Here she is at the window.

     She knows the names of most of our backyard visitors and wastes no time in pointing them out. A couple of days ago about twenty-five Pine Siskins Spinus pinus descended on us and have been cleaning out the feeders ever since. This provided great excitement for Bella and she quickly learned a new species.

    She was very intently observing them all and pointing out every one to me.

     Among her favourites is American Goldfinch Spinus tristis and looking at this handsome male it is not hard to figure its appeal to a little girl.

     Chipping Sparrows Spizella passerina don't visit quite as often as some of the other species so it's always a moment of great excitement when one shows up. 

     Perhaps her greatest excitement of all is reserved for the House Sparrows Passer domesticus now feeding young in the nest box I installed in early spring. She calls the male "the fat bird."

     Every coming and going is added to the list; checking it out, she calls it.

      American Robin Turdus migratorius is one of the first birds she learned by name and she always enjoys it when one comes to vacuum up the seed spilled by the finches.

     We have tried to explain the concept of mourning to her, as in Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura but she can't quite grasp why the bird is sad, and she still thinks of it as a Morning Dove!

     When a House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus, Mourning Dove and Pine Siskin are together on the bird bath.......

     ...... you really have to pay close attention......

     ...... and add it to the list so that Grandpa Dave won't forget any of the birds that came to visit today.

     Thank you Bella for all your help. The lists are on my desk and I am hoping that you will perhaps be one of the new generation of ornithologists about twenty years from now.

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.