Friday, 30 September 2016

Tuesday Rambles with David - Bannister Lake/Grass Lake

27 September 2016

     A couple of people have been bugging me for a while about starting a regular weekly outing of local areas taking up all or part of the morning. Finally, I succumbed to their entreaties and our first session was primarily to Bannister Lake in Cambridge, ON, where at this time of the year Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis feed at the edge of the lake, sometimes in large numbers. A little side trip to Grass Lake rounded out the morning.
     Miriam and I were joined for this excursion by Franc Gorenc, Mary Voisin and Judy Wyatt. Although anyone who wishes to attend will always be welcomed, a small group like this is very manageable.
     Franc is a fine photographer with a range of excellent equipment, and he has kindly given his consent for me to use his pictures for this blog post. 
     We did not see large numbers of Sandhill Cranes, but we were not disappointed in our quest for this impressive species. They heralded their arrival with loud bugling, a sound which sends shivers up my spine, and they landed in small groups on the far side of the lake. 

      Quickly they settled into a feeding routine, periodically stopping to dance energetically. Since breeding has finished for the year one can only assume this behaviour represents some kind of reinforcement bonding; it certainly presented fine entertainment for us. 
      Sandhill Crane is an exceedingly handsome species and we are very fortunate to have them in our area.

     In addition to the show put on by the cranes we had the good fortune to have a Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus circling the lake in front of us, finally diving to catch a fish and coming up with its prize. It is an impressive and memorable encounter; even though I have witnessed it many times it never ceases to thrill and amaze. I think that Franc has captured it superbly in the following images.

     The powerful down stroke of those huge wings lifts the bird out of the water and it turns the fish face forward to provide aerodynamic efficiency, and flies off with its prize. Ospreys will be migrating south very soon now, in fact some have already departed, so we were fortunate to enjoy this spectacle. The memory will warm us on a cold winter's night.
     By carefully scanning the water we discovered numerous species of waterfowl, including a sizable number of Wood Ducks Aix sponsa, the males in their finery, glinting in the early morning sun.

     There were many Great Blue Herons Ardea herodias present; if they came too close to the Sandhill Cranes they were unceremoniously driven off - no doubt all part of learning to cope with life for this young bird. 

     The number of Pied-billed Grebes Podilymbus podiceps was quite astounding and we all commented on the abundance of this species.

     At a casual glance grebes seem to be wedded to the water and are seldom seen to fly. As a migratory species, however, they obviously cover long distances and it was entertaining to see these birds making short bursts of flight across the lake, no doubt preparing for the long journey ahead.
     In the woods surrounding the lake Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata were in evidence, both resident and migratory populations.

     The old expression "familiarity breeds contempt" might never be more true than as it relates to Blue Jays. This stunningly handsome bird is barely given a passing glance due to its familiarity, but it is worthy of all the adulation we can give it.
     A short journey over to Grass Lake produced numerous delights, including many Eastern Meadowlarks Sturnella magna and a couple of Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis. This is a male perched on a wire.

     It was a very agreeable way to spend a morning, with great companions, and I am looking forward to the next time.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bird Banding Episode No. 6

24 September 2016

     We were treated to a fine session of banding this morning at Sprucehaven, with a nice variety of species, all migrants, without a single resident bird being retrieved from the nets. The following pictures will reveal all of the new species captured this fall, with the exception of one. We recorded a White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis that I forgot to photograph before it was released.
     Here is His Regal Smugness, Kevin Grundy, looking very satisfied with himself as he holds a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys.

         Here are a couple more images of the same bird.

     The juvenile is a very handsome little bird but few would argue that it is outdone by the adult.

      Those of us familiar with bird banding operations take it all for granted, but many people have never had the experience of witnessing it first hand. Here are some of the tools of the trade.

    There are many aspects of a bird that can only be revealed by having the bird in the hand, taking measurements, observing moult and observing other clues related to the bird's age and sex. Obviously all of these details cannot be committed to memory for the eight hundred or so species known to occur in North America and the following reference is the standard guide for bird banders. The two volumes are consulted frequently!

    We were very happy to capture our first Tennessee Warbler Leiothlypis peregrina of the season; it will perhaps be our only one as these birds are at the peak of their migration right now.

      Yesterday I had to visit SpruceHaven to accompany a VIP visitor to the farm and in conducting a walk through the woodlot we observed Brown Creeper Certhia americana, and I predicted that we would be ensnaring them in the nets the following day. The prediction turned out to be true.

     A Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata is a relatively uncommon migrant in this part of the continent so we were delighted to capture this bird.

     It begs the question: How many individuals of this species migrate unnoticed? Perhaps our modest banding operation can contribute to the data base of knowledge about this species.
    As the old expression goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for my money a male American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla ranks high on the scale.

     Kevin and I had been speculating that "any time now" kinglets would start moving through and on the next round of the nets a Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula was captured. This was the first sighting of the season of this species for all present.

     When we went to close down the nets for the day our final circuit netted us a Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens, bringing our total for warbler species captured this fall to a pleasing thirteen - and we may be able to add to that yet. 

     Neither Kevin nor I know of any other banding operation that is operating now, or has operated in the past in this area, so we are adding greatly to the reservoir of knowledge about the migratory pathways of these neotropical species.
     Over the past week or so a couple of other observations merit attention. In Erbsville I saw a squirrel that had been pretty much squashed on the road and it attracted the attention of Turkey Vultures Cathartes aura. 

     The birds were perched on nearby rooftops and would swoop down to garner a morsel every time there was no traffic. This species could be the poster child for opportunism!
     On a recent visit to Hullett Marsh we saw Eastern Phoebe Sayornis Phoebe and although my pictures were quite poor Miriam didn't do too badly.

     It is an interesting time for birders as the pace of fall migration heats up. Soon we will be looking for the arrival of species from the north. It all goes to prove that every season is a good season for a dedicated birder.

All species banded 24 September 2016: Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), House Wren (2), Brown Creeper (1), Tennessee Warbler (1), Nashville Warbler (4), Common Yellowthroat (1), American Redstart (1), Magnolia Warbler (2), Blackpoll Warbler (1), Black-throated Green Warbler (1), Wilson's Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (6), White-crowned Sparrow (3), White-throated Sparrow (1).
Total individuals: 26

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Choir of Starlings

     Fall is upon us and already some of the trees are starting to change colour. A few mornings have been pleasingly crisp recently, but in general the warmest August on record has slithered into September and one would never know we are less than three weeks away from Thanksgiving. Short-sleeved shirts and tee shirts are still the order of the day.
     On Thursday morning, when doing my regular monitoring chores at the rare Charitable Research in Cambridge, I came across a group of about fifty Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris perched in a couple of snags. 

     There is nothing unusual about this, of course, but the encounter was made memorable by what I heard. The sound coming from them was ethereal and beautiful - burbles, flutelike notes, clear whistles, arpeggios almost, with much of their mimicry included - I was mesmerized. A motet by Palustrina would not have sounded as sweet.

     Common Starlings are not generally spoken of with expressions of endearment, but I confess to having a healthy respect for these birds. They have been introduced into North America and out-compete many of our native species for nest cavities, much to our collective chagrin. But it is we who have brought them here and we are now stuck with the problem.

     They are not going anywhere and their sheer numbers preclude any plan to totally eradicate them. Perhaps others can learn to enjoy them in the way I did on Thursday morning and refrain from the anthropomorphic rhetoric one hears so often.

     This Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii was perched on the same snag as many of the starlings and seemed to be equally entranced with the performance!

     The starlings appeared not to be perturbed by it and the Cooper's Hawk finally flew off without making a pass at them. Perhaps it was already sated and the starlings could somehow detect this.
     The forest floor is always beautiful and worthy of study. I couldn't help but wonder what treasures would be found if one had the time and the skill to really comb through this tiny segment. 

     In any event the sheer sensory delight is a tonic for all who experience it and take the time to drink in its splendour.
     While I was busy conducting a tour for Waterloo Region Nature Miriam was wielding the camera for me and captured these delightful images of a Wood Frog 

     This hardy little frog can tolerate freezing over the winter in appropriate conditions. It is usually found in damp woodlands and swamps with adjacent upland forest, but this individual had strayed into a recently cut alfalfa field.
     Our banding totals were not impressive as birds seemed not to be moving, but people were nevertheless fascinated to see Kevin display his skills.

     On a day's outing with John and Geraldine Sanderson, and Curtiss MacDonald, to Hullett Marsh, we discovered this impressive nest of Blackjacket Wasps Vespula consobrina. It was a splendid discovery but we made sure to keep a respectful distance from them!

     As always, any little foray into the world of nature, produces surprises, new discoveries and delights by the score. I hope you will get out and enjoy it to its fullest. We are right on the cusp of changing seasons when so much is adapting to abbreviated hours of daylight and cooler temperatures, some by migrating, others by entering hibernation and others getting ready to cope with the harsh months still to come. 
     Nature in all its seasons. How could I live without it?

All species banded 17 September: Blue Jay (3), House Wren (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Magnolia Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (3)  Total individuals: 9

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Spider Venom and Bird Banding Episode 4

11 September 2016

     Today is the fifteenth anniversary of those terrible events in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, which have come to be universally known as 9/11. I freely confess to having not remembered it at all, and it was only when I had to write the date in the bird banding log that the significance was impressed upon me. All I can say is, thank goodness life has returned to normal, and no doubt legions of bird banders across the United States were also going about their business as usual. The terrorists did not succeed.
     When returning from a circuit of the nets, bags containing birds in hand, the keen eyes of Jim Huffman saw a Cabbage White Pieris rapae fly into a spider's web. Instantly imprisoned it flapped its wings so furiously that the first pictures I took were just a blur. Quick as a flash, a spider in the genus Argiope, (although I am not sure as to species), was on the butterfly and I assume quickly injected venom into it, and its wing beats ceased.

     How many dramas in nature do we miss? How many life and death struggles take place unseen as we strain to see a bird through our binoculars? This one was riveting to watch, albeit deadly for the Cabbage White, and I am truly grateful to Jim for drawing my attention to it.
     We had a very successful day of banding, with several species of warbler, giving us more evidence each week that SpruceHaven is part of a significant migratory pathway for warblers.
     This Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla is resting quietly in John Lichty's hand before flying off to continue its migration, now clearly identified as passing through St. Agatha, ON.

     We were very happy to band our first Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana of the year; note the bright rusty scapulars.

     Other than Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia, sparrows have not yet appeared in our nets, but we expect that shortly other species will start to show up.
     We captured two Wilson's Warblers Cardellina pusilla, handsome birds indeed, and a further indication that SpruceHaven is a pathway for southbound neotropical migrants.

     A friend of mine who is Jewish always refers to this warbler as a Yarmulke Warbler since he says the black patch on the head always reminds him of the skullcap worn by observant Jews.

     Flycatchers in the genus Empidonax are notoriously difficult to identify in the field, and even in the hand, can present the bird bander with some difficulties in nailing down the species. Kevin was uncertain initially about this individual, but carefully consulted the reference "bible" and based on the measurement of the wing chord and the weight of the bird, he narrowed it down to Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus. This was our first trap of this species and represents the third species in this family (that we know of) to journey through SpruceHaven.

     Once again I would be remiss if I concluded this post without a word of thanks to Kevin Grundy, a superb bander who demonstrates time and again a keen bias in favour of the welfare of the birds. We are very fortunate to have Kevin as part of our team. Indeed, without Kevin, this operation would not take place since he is the only one among us with a permit.
     See you next Saturday Kevin!

Total species banded: Traill's Flycatcher (2), Least Flycatcher (1), Red-eyed Vireo (1), House Wren (1), American Goldfinch (4), Nashville Warbler (2), Common Yellowthroat (8), Wilson's Warbler (2)Song Sparrow (6), Swamp Sparrow (1) - Total individuals: 28

One Ruby-throated Hummingbird  Archilochus colubris was captured and released.

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.