Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A Special Friend

     No doubt some of you will recall that I mentioned that my good friend Karen von Knobloch had permitted me to use her pictures from the falcon watch on my recent blog post.
     This is Karen.




     What a great friend and supporter she has been through the period when we have all conspired to do whatever was in our power to ensure the success of the four young Peregrine Falcons. She has probably logged more hours than anyone else, but not only that she has created an ongoing photographic record of all the events of their lives, and has shared the results of her creative prowess with everyone. 
     When I asked her if I might use her photographs on my blog she acquiesced without a moment's hesitation. 
     Now that the period of our our daily vigilance is drawing to a close, Karen has created this poster of the entire peregrine family which she is permitting me to share with all of you.



     I cannot think of anything more fitting than to have this composite of the four healthy, strong youngsters with their devoted parents. No group of young Peregrine Falcons has been more ready to face the world and all the challenges it will bring. We all wish them favorable winds, good weather and an abundance of prey, and may they return to us when they are ready to breed themselves.
     Thank you Karen for your kindness and salutary dedication. The first female next year, without a doubt, should be named Karen in your honour.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Spotted Sandpiper (Chevalier grivelé)

     Yesterday Miriam and I had a chance to get out and do a little birding together on a pleasant sunny day. As might be expected many species are now feeding young, some have already fledged, and certain species are involved with second broods.
     We were very happy to see a Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia with young. This species is the New World equivalent of the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos of Europe and Asia, but the species on this side of the Atlantic is polyandrous, and it is the male who incubates the eggs and raises the young.
     He was doing a great job and became quite agitated when we, or a Canada Goose Branta canadensis for that matter, got anywhere close to the young. 




     We were unable to photograph the young birds as they stayed mainly in clumps of thick vegetation, becoming visible for only the briefest of intervals. The adult, however, was very obliging and we were able to get several pictures.





     Just as we were about to leave the area this fine Widow Skimmer Libellula luctuosa landed right in front of us.



     Numerous patches of Oxeye Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum were especially beautiful and seemed to attract many Cabbage White sp. butterflies, but none perched long enough to pose for a picture. The flowers were reward enough, however.



     Moving on to LaSalle Park we were again treated to a close encounter with a Spotted Sandpiper. We saw a huge dead fish at the water's edge and it provided a convenient platform for the Spotted Sandpiper, and doubtless food too.







     We did not see any young birds at this location but the great views of the adult provided ample satisfaction.


     Elde Trees Sambucus sp. are now in full bloom and I think we need to pick some flowers soon for our annual maple syrup treat.


     Numerous Mallards Anas platyrynchos were seen with babies and these two seemed quite happy to relax in the sun.


     Their mother and siblings were not far away.

     Eastern Chipmunk Tamias striatus is a great favourite with people, especially children, and many leave little piles of sunflower seeds for them to eat. This individual seems to have already filled his cheek pouches and will no doubt be back for more when he has added what he already has to his storage chamber.


     A great deal of my time recently has been devoted to the Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus and I am truly happy to have played a part in their success, but it was really enjoyable to get out again with Miriam and enjoy some of the other delights that are all around us. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

Eastern Bluebird (Merlebleu de l'est)

Three Bridges Road
St. Jacobs, ON
25 June 2015

     Recently my time has been pretty much occupied with keeping watch on the young Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus (along with a whole team of volunteers) to make sure that they receive any help they might need if they get into trouble while familiarizing themselves with the hazards of an urban environment. Every day they become more proficient and their expertise grows exponentially, so I think we are nearing the end of our concern.
     Yesterday we had to go and pick up an order of bag sausage, a Mennonite delicacy in this part of the world, and on the way back home we swung by one of our most reliable spots to see Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis. We knew that by now they should be feeding young and a little patience was quickly rewarded.
     The first bird we spotted was this female with a juicy morsel to be delivered to hungry mouths at the nest.



     The male was not to be outdone and we saw him drop from a perch to snag a butterfly.


     This is a species that gives reason for great optimism. Several years ago the species was in steep decline due to lack of natural nesting cavities, and increased competition from such introduced birds as House Sparrow Passer domesticus and Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris. Thanks to a concerted effort by many bird lovers entire trails of bluebird boxes have been established and the species is making a robust and much welcomed comeback.
     Once a bluebird enlivens your morning it's pretty hard to have the rest of the day be anything but great!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Peregrine Drama

     It is a reasonable expectation that not everything is going to go smoothly when dealing with four young Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus. 
    Well, as so often happens in a family, we had one recalcitrant youngster to deal with! Chroma was heavier than the other chicks by about a hundred grams at the weigh-in when they were banded, and this worked to her disadvantage when she took her first flight. That extra weight prevented her from getting the right amount of lift that she needed and she got stranded and had to be rescued.
     Here are the details of her feet showing her colour band which enables us to easily identify her, and the more formal alpha/numeric code assigned to her.



     When we rescued  Chroma we noticed that she had a slight limp and she was transferred to a safe location by Rudy Kruppa, an experienced, highly-skilled falconer who leads our team, for a period of observation and examination. 
     It is important during this period to make sure that the bird stays hydrated.



      Having determined that nothing was physically wrong with the bird, a release was scheduled for 20:00 on Monday 15 June. All did not go well! Chroma took flight and headed for a nearby building, higher than the one from which she launched, but again could not gain enough height to make a landing. She came to earth at the edge of a construction site and we were very grateful that the machinery had been shut down for the day and what might have been substantial jeopardy for Chroma was not a factor.
     As always, the CTV station where the nest box is located showed great interest and concern, and a camera crew was immediately on scene to record the events.



     Here is the actual rescue. Lisa Reh, our fledge watch coordinator, and Rudy distracted the bird with towels until it lunged at one of them, locking in its talons enabling Rudy to envelop the bird in the other towel, imprisoning its wing against its side to prevent any possibility of injury.




     Once again Chroma was removed to spend the night under Rudy's watchful eye and I think that every member of the recovery team felt that no better care could be provided for the bird.
     An examination by Rudy revealed no evidence of injury and a second release from the roof of the CTV building was set for 15:00 yesterday.
     I should mention that in the meantime, several of us had been monitoring the rest of the family throughout the day, and the flight prowess of the other young birds was improving exponentially with every attempt they made. The most proficient of all was Redbud, entirely appropriate of course since she was the bird named by Waterloo Region Nature at the end of my term as President!




     As I watched this youngster take to the air, it was impossible not to anthropomorphize a little - perhaps more than a little!  It seemed that with every flap of her wings she discovered new abilities, she banked and turned, jinked, veered and tested her prowess with little bursts of speed. Surely she was revelling in the freedom of the open sky and coming to the understanding that her lineage were indeed the absolute masters of this realm. I was absolutely enthralled to see her claim her destiny.
     But, back to Chroma. From atop the roof of the building she launched again and it was obvious from the moment she lifted off she was going to make it this time. 



     She was joined by one of her siblings as though to encourage her on.



     To great applause from all the anxious watchers she successfully landed on top a nearby apartment building, high up, secure and out of harm's way.
     Reggie, her brother, flew by in a gesture of solidarity with his prodigal sister.



    By now, at times, all three other youngsters and both parents were in the air, a welcome home party if ever you saw one.



     Mystery, the adult female, wasted no time in delivering food to her hungry daughter.





     Here is Chroma, healthy, capable of flight, ready to face the world as a Peregrine should, bold, fearless and ready for any challenge that may arise.



     Already reports have been received from the early morning watch crew that at times all four siblings have been cavorting in the air together. This is a success story in which we can all take satisfaction and I am very happy to have been part of the team.
     You are all probably wondering how I suddenly gained such photographic expertise. The answer is, of course, that I didn't! I am indebted to and enormously grateful to Karen von Knobloch, a fellow falcon aficionada and key member of our team for allowing me to use her pictures. It is her skill that enables us all to share these wonderful moments in the lives of our falcon family. On behalf of all the people who read my blog, Karen, thank you, thank you, thank you. Your kindness is emblematic of the spirit of friendship, cooperation, camaraderie and largesse of spirit which defines falcon lovers the world over.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Peregrine Progress

     Our Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus are just about ready to fledge. In fact had it not been raining pretty much all day today I am pretty sure they would have launched into their first flight this morning. As it was, the air was heavy and moisture-laden with no late morning convection currents to give them the lift they need for their maiden voyage.
     The pictures gathered over the last few days are hardly paragons of photographic excellence but they serve to show the progress these four healthy youngsters have made. 





     Ironically, on the one opportunity I had to get all four young birds in the same shot, I had no memory card in my camera!
     Here are a couple of shots of the adults
.



     Since the pictures above were taken the chicks have left the nest box and are now wandering around the deck on the communications tower, all the while flapping their wings and flexing their flight muscles in anticipation of that first launch into the freedom of the skies.
     Everything is not Peregrine Falcons, however, and on an early morning walk around Columbia Lake I was surprised to come upon a couple of White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus.




     At this time of year there is food aplenty for these browsers and they have a sleek, handsome appearance.



     A couple of Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia were foraging on grit on the path, and I saw several of them also carrying food, so breeding is evidently well underway.



     The woodlands are filled with spring flowers and blooms of every shape, colour and fragrance. I was especially struck by the Wood Anemones Anemone quinquefolia shown below,




     I'll be checking on the peregrines again tomorrow. Who knows what might have taken place by the time I get there?

Friday, 12 June 2015

House Sparrows (Moineaux domestiques) Fledge in Our Yard

     These days I spend at least a couple of hours each day watching the four young Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus at the CTV towerin anticipation of their first flight, and during my stint this morning I started to think about the family of House Sparrows Passer domesticus that recently fledged in our backyard.
     That day (23 May) I took Will and Eddie, the two youngest grandchildren, to the Young Naturalists Club, but Miriam placed a chair in front of the nest box and took a series of pictures as the young left the nest. Here is one about to emerge.




     Despite the fact that it was fledge day the parents were still very attentive and bringing food.




     One would think this behaviour would be counter-productive in terms of coaxing the young out of the nest, but feed them they did.



     At ever shorter intervals, however, the young birds were coming to the hole, and finally they all left to find their own way in the world. Needless to say they will still receive food from their parents as they gradually improve their efficiency at foraging on their own.






     Already we see the adults going back into the nest box with bits of nesting material in their bills, so we assume that they are "tidying up" in there and getting ready for a second brood. Since we just erected this nest box in early spring it's really gratifying to see these results.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Common Yellowthroat (Paruline masquée) and others

Hullett Marsh
Huron County, ON
05 June 2015

     My good friends John and Geraldine Sanderson have as part of their birding year, a day at Hullett Marsh and this year I was invited along. Joining us were Curtiss MacDonald and Bob Mundy and a fine group we made. The entire day was enjoyable from start to finish, with much good humour and camaraderie to supplement a fine day of nature observance. Miriam had already planned a weekend away at Niagara Falls with old friends from her high school days, but she regretted very much not being able to come along with us.
     Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas was, as might be expected at this time of year in a marshland setting, ubiquitous. 



     It is always thrilling, no matter how many times I have seen it, to observe males singing from an elevated perch. They throw their whole body into their wichety-wichety song, trembling and shuddering as though in ecstasy. 



     A Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus was perched high atop a snag in the distance, another indication of just how well this magnificent bird of prey has recovered from the dark days of organochlorine pesticides and wanton human persecution.


     Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor swooped and glided everywhere we travelled and many were nesting in the abundant nesting boxes provided for both Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis. Here is a female Tree Swallow poking her head out to survey the world.


     Birds were our main focus, but they were not of course the only attraction. There were many butterflies around including this Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta.


     The dramatic and beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus was not hard to spot.


     As has been noted in an earlier post this is the season for turtles to clamber out of the water and seek suitable ground in which to lay their eggs.
     We encountered Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina.......



....... and Midland Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta marginata.



     They had obviously been laying for a while because several nests had already been discovered by racoons or other predators and the eggs eaten.




     Only a very small percentage of the eggs laid ever result in adult turtles. Many nests are destroyed before the eggs even hatch and when the hatchlings that survive the nesting stage make it to the water, there is an entire host of predators waiting to make a meal of them. Nature is evidently well-balanced, however, because there is a healthy population of both species.
     As mentioned at the beginning it was a wonderful day out, shared with like-minded people who were fine companions. To top it all off, we stopped at an old country store where Curtiss treated us to ice cream - a tradition we intend to hold him to long into the future!
     Thank you John and Geraldine for inviting me.