Monday, 31 October 2016

Tuesday Rambles with David - Columbia Lake and SpruceHaven

25 October 2016

        It was a fine day, a little cool but sunny, when we all gathered at Columbia Lake in Waterloo for our regular Tuesday outing, with high expectations of finding some interesting birds.
        The foliage at Columbia Lake was at the peak of its colour, one of the reasons why autumn is so magnificent at this latitude. Some of the trees are nothing short of breathtaking and any panoramic view is a riot of reds and golds.


      The pictures used on this blog post are a cooperative effort by Franc and Miriam. Franc is the consummate photographer among us, with the best equipment, so the selection is heavily weighted in his favour. 
      Here is a delicate, lovely image of a Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis. 


     This species comes in a multitude of sub species and this morph is commonly known as Slate-coloured Junco. It is not hard to appreciate just how appropriate that designation is.
     In addition to a fine selection of birds, small mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks were very active. This Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis was industriously searching for nuts and seeds to cache away as a safeguard against food shortages in the winter.


       It is sleek and glossy and appeared to be in peak condition. I am sure it is well equipped to handle the cruel conditions winter sometimes brings.
       Autumn Meadowhawk Sympetrum vicinum is one of our latest dragonflies and we were happy to see this individual highlighting our walk.


     A Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis high overhead was seen flying with a fish in its bill.  You can bet that this was not a winter food item and would be gobbled down very quickly!


      This is the time of year when waterfowl from the north start to appear in large concentrations composed of a number of species. Columbia Lake did not have a great range of ducks but a couple of pairs of Gadwall Anas strepera were close enough for Franc to record their image for posterity!



     We saw fairly large groups of Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris; not quite the murmurations for which this species is renowned, when large flocks coalesce into one massive aggregation, but impressive nevertheless.



     A dense stand of bushes containing many berries hosted good numbers of several species, feeding on the food bonanza so easily available. As might be expected Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedroroum, a classically frugivorous species was quick to claim its place at the table.


     We stayed for quite a while at this area since there was non-stop activity. As you can see everyone was engrossed.


     Well, maybe everyone except Jim! Franc had his camera cocked and ready.
     A pair of Bufflehead Bucephala albeola were far out on the lake.


     But many Canada Geese Branta canadensis flew overhead.


     Raptor migration is well advanced by now, with many species having totally migrated out of our area. Numerous Turkey Vultures Cathartes aura were riding the thermals southward, but this Red-tailed Hawk Buteo canadensis might be either a migrant or a resident bird.


     The berry crop attracted several pairs of House Finches Haemorhous mexicanus and it was interesting to watch them feeding. This species is a regular patron at backyard bird feeders and this was an opportunity to study them taking natural food.




     White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis is an iconic bird for many of us; its song when breeding in the north woods is often interpreted as Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada. I am always delighted to see this very handsome species.


     A couple of Red-bellied Woodpeckers Melanerpes carolinus put on an amazing display for us, chasing each other and seemingly engaging in some kind of mock combat or other ritualized behaviour. They were hardly still for a moment, with aerial tumbling, grappling and diving, with flashes of colour to dazzle the eye. This picture gives but the barest idea of the deft choreography we witnessed.


     Before leaving Columbia Lake to head for SpruceHaven we stopped by the playground at the nearby environmental reserve, where the inner child in Mary
was revealed in all its unrestrained glory.


     Judy and Mary had other things to do, so they declined to accompany us to SpruceHaven, but the rest of us made our way there to finish the morning in good style. 
     Clad in its autumnal best, SpruceHaven looked stunning.



     A Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis was unconcerned at our presence as it fed on peanuts at one of the feeders.


     American Goldfinches Spinus tristis have lost their bright regalia by late fall, but they still look very handsome in their delicate, muted dress.



     We have located twenty-five salamander boards in the woodlot, all made by Franc and Jim, so I was pleased to take Franc and Carol to see where they have been distributed. We hope to discover a range of species under these boards next spring.



     There is a wide range of fungi in the forested area of SpruceHaven, far beyond my realm of expertise to identify, but this formation was very interesting indeed.


     In the areas planted by Sandy to create wildlife habitat (she has done so much work and it it is truly a credit to her vision for nature) Highbush Cranberry Viburnum trilobum provides welcome food for a variety of berry-eating species.


     I had not realized that Carol was making her maiden visit to SpruceHaven. We welcome her warmly and hope that she will return often, so that she too can enjoy the wonders of this Shangri-La in St. Agatha.
     It was a great outing. Tomorrow we will do it all over again!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Bald Eagle (Pygargue à tête blanche) at the Grand River, Cambridge, ON

30 October 2016

     The Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, no longer subjected to the senseless and unremitting persecution by mankind that it suffered for so long, is making a recovery in our area and several strongholds for this species may be found with relative ease. It is still not common, but a dedicated searcher in the right habitat, can generally locate an eagle or two.

     


     Miriam and I first spotted this individual as it lifted off from the water and flew to a perch along the river's edge. 
     The primary diet of the Bald Eagle is fish, which it catches live by grabbing prey from the water in its huge talons, or for which it scavenges, exhibiting no reluctance to feed on a dead carcass.




     The Grand River hosts a substantial population of ducks too and winter populations, especially of Mallard Anas platyrynchos, are significant. Bald Eagles are very adept at carefully scanning a flock of ducks for an injured individual and an easy meal is thereby procured. 
     This species may be more common than it has been for many years; it is nonetheless a very special sighting and one in which we rejoice.     
     On a completely different note, Miriam showed me a curious comment on Facebook from an American of our acquaintance stating that she wished "foreigners" would stop making comments about the terrifying prospect of having Donald Trump elected President of the United States, and would concentrate on getting their own house in order.
     If elected, Donald Trump, would have his finger on the nuclear button and that alarming fact transcends any national borders. Any irrational act on his part would not respect national boundaries.
     And the United States still lays claim to being the leader of the free world (a fact which many would dispute - and would certainly be abrogated by a Trump presidency), so they can't make that assertion and then tell the rest of the world to mind its own business.
     In any event the following video expresses my sentiments entirely and I hope that our friends south of the border will come to their senses and elect Hillary Clinton on 8 November. She is a flawed candidate to be sure, but is so much more preferable to Donald Trump there is no contest.
     The rest of the world shakes its collective head in disbelief and dismay that out of a population of 330 millions these are the best two candidates available.
  
   

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnes trompettes) along the Grand River

23 March 2016
rare Charitable Research Reserve
Cambridge, ON

      Miriam and I do bird monitoring at rare each weekend, spring and fall, and the route we do on Sunday mornings is called the East Cliff Forest Route, which takes us along the bank of the Grand River.
     This morning, for the very first time, we observed Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator along the river, one adult and three cygnets to be precise.


     This species migrates in family groups, so it was a bit of a mystery as to why the second adult was not present also. As may be seen, the young birds are now fully as big as their parent.
     The adult bird seems to have some king of vegetation wrapped around the front of its body, but this seemed not to impede it in any way, and I suspect that upon taking flight it would quickly shake it loose.


     It was a very special sighting and certainly Trumpeter Swan was "the bird of the day."


     We were accompanied this morning by Jade Bassler, a University of Waterloo environmental studies undergraduate, who added much to the conviviality of our walk. As you have learned from previous blog posts, Jade has been out to SpruceHaven with us a couple of times, and both Miriam and I will look forward to doing more with this enthusiastic, committed young woman. It was our pleasure to have her along today.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sittelle à poitrine blanche) feeds from the hand

19 October 2016

     Today was as classic a fall day in southern Ontario as one could imagine and Miriam and I decided to take advantage of it and go for a walk along the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs, one of our favourite walks in the area.
     It was pleasantly warm and the colours were breathtaking.




     In addition, Miriam has a new Nikon Coolpix B700 camera and she wanted to get some practice shooting with it, before our upcoming vacation in Cuba.
     I don't think we will ever totally grow up, at least I hope not - perhaps we can remain children with wrinkles! Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus will readily accept seeds from the hand; in fact along well worn trails such as this one they have come to associate walkers with food and are quick to surround you as soon as you enter their territory


      For children this is a magical experience indeed, but for adults hardly less so, I suspect. I know that it's true for me and today, when offered some seed by a kind fellow trail walker, I could not resist.
     White-breasted Nuthatches Sitella carolinensis often keep company with chickadees, especially at this time of the year when they are both looking for food to cache away for the harsh months ahead. 


     In all the years that I have hand-fed chickadees I have never had a White-breasted Nuthatch land on my hand, nor even attempt to do so. Imagine my surprise and delight, therefore, when this individual landed on my hand to get its share of seed.


     Not only did it fearlessly alight on my hand, it made no attempt to snag a seed and leave quickly. It moved around on my palm and sorted through the seeds until it found the choicest item being offered. If an impudent chickadee attempted to horn in, it was summarily driven off.



      Not only that, the nuthatch flew away to hide its prize and then returned to my hand for more.
      It was a remarkable encounter indeed, filled with pleasure. Any time I can have intimate contact with a wild creature I cherish it, and this experience was supremely memorable.
      Thanks to Miriam for the pictures. If this is what she can get on the first day using the camera, when she is not yet familiar with all the settings, we can look forward to good things to come.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Dedicated University of Waterloo Students at SpruceHaven

15 October 2016

     Once again we were very happy to welcome dedicated students from the University of Waterloo to witness our bird banding operation and to add to their knowledge about the avian diversity of the area.


     From left to right in the above picture are Jason Bell whose field of study is Geography and Environmental Management, Jade Bassler who is immersed in the Environment and Business curriculum, Emily Krampien who is studying International Development and will be putting in time in a third world country next year, and Josh Pickering whose programme encompasses Environment and Resource Studies.
     These very fine young people were at SpruceHaven before first light, anxious to participate and contribute in any way they can. They were prepared to work at invasive species removal but Sandy is away in Scotland for a couple of weeks, and without her supervision and direction they were unable to accomplish this task.
     I cannot commend these students enough and to say what a pleasure it is to be associated with them. They are our future and we are not turning over a world in good order to them. Miriam and I were delighted to have this contingent over to our house for dinner last evening. What a fine and stimulating time we had. I hope they will come back again soon.
     In terms of banding we had a relatively modest day and captured only one new species for this fall's operation. It is an American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea depicted in the pictures below.




     One may clearly see the bi-coloured mandible, rusty cap and central breast spot which are the identifying characters of this species.
     As we process the birds, it gives us a great opportunity to show the students the various feather tracts and explain their function. They get to observe the birds up close and discussions cover far ranging aspects of the birds - flight, thermoregulation, migration, fat deposition - and much more. Our desire to pass on our knowledge is only surpassed by their desire to acquire it.
     This male Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis (Slate-coloured subspecies) clearly shows the white outer tail feathers so diagnostic of this species.



     We were fortunate to band both male and female Golden-crowned Kinglets Regulas satrapa. It is safe to say that this species elicited more appreciative sighs than any other, especially from Jade! Perhaps more than the rest of us she identifies with being tiny but tough! The first two picture below show the male, the last one the female. 




     For all of us who have the pleasure of doing myriad kinds of avian research at SpruceHaven we cannot express our appreciation too much to Dave, Sandy and Jamie for the rare opportunity they afford us to pursue our passion. From the bottom of our hearts THANK YOU!

Total species banded 15 October: Downy Woodpecker (1), Blue Jay (1), Black-capped Chickadee (2), Golden-crowned Kinglet (2), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), American Goldfinch (5), Nashville Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (5), White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow (1).
Total individuals: 22