20 June 2017
In terms of birding, the dog days of summer are upon us. Most species are breeding, and are silent. Birds are consumed with the struggle to raise a family and tend to keep themselves hidden from view.
On a dull day, (at least when we set out), five of us (Franc, Carol, Jim, Miriam and I) decided to explore the often productive water and woodland of Columbia Lake, on the Environmental Reserve of the University of Waterloo. This is a splendid location not far from home, where we can spend a pleasant three or four hours and still be home for lunch.
We parked near the sports fields and looked down upon the southern part of the lake.
We meandered down to the shore and it was not long before we spotted a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia zipping over the water, head down, scanning for fish. Several times it plunged and emerged with a captured fish, quickly swallowed in flight.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis was frequently seen, especially hawking for insects over the water, but these two seemed to be having a particularly enjoyable day.
Leaving the shore of the lake we wandered inland a little.
Miriam had us pose for a group shot.
Even though I have seen him do it many times, I am still impressed by the way that Franc can swing that heavy camera and lens up in an instant, quickly focus on his target, and get great pictures. A male Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula, was seen but briefly and a female not much longer, but Franc managed these two impressive shots.
I don't know whether it has anything to do with his grip on his camera, but Franc has a bone-crushing handshake. How sweet it would be if only he could grasp the hand of Donald Trump and crush his tiny fingers! Franc would put even Emmanuel Macron to shame!
How many Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum have I seen? Certainly well into the thousands but it never, ever gets to be old hat. I think it must be like hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - every time there is something else to be learned, a nuance previously unnoticed. So it is with Cedar Waxwing; its perfection strikes you as never before and the beauty is undiminished.
A male House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus is pretty pleasing to the eye too, and its burbling, cheerful song is a joy to hear.
Every little patch of habitat, every tree, every riffle in a stream harbours its own secrets.
A Song Sparrow Melopsiza melodia is content to sit quietly and watch the world go by for a while.
Of course, birds are not the only taxon to be studied and this fearsome-looking insect was both impressive and interesting. Even Franc's handshake would be a poor defence against that stinger!
Several species of butterfly were observed but few alighted. A Monarch Danaus plexippus with ragged wings was more cooperative than most.
Grey Catbird Dumetella carolinensis is a common species, often alerting us to its presence by its jumbled song with its characteristic cat's miaow at the end of it.
My sister-in-law, Grace, remembers Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea with great fondness from her childhood, where it could be seen and heard in the tree around the home farm. She would have been thrilled to have been with us to see at least three males in all their nuptial glory.
It seems to me that getting a good shot of a bird that appears all black (although they never are) is especially difficult and I think that all will agree that Franc has done a superlative job with this American Crow Corvus brachyrynchos.
We had debated whether we should walk all the way to the end of the main trail, because the woodland there is sometimes particularly bothersome with mosquitoes, but we decided to do so and were rewarded with a pair of Downy Woodepeckers Dryobates pubescens feeding an offspring.
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus was common throughout.
Dragonflies and damselflies are quite abundant by this time of the year; Ebony Jewelwing Calopteryx maculata, probably capturing first place, both female.........
A Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus was not doing too much warbling!
Several families of Mallard Anas platyrynchos were observed in various stages of development; these youngsters are now almost as big as their mother.
A Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus passed overhead and none of us could really figure out what it was carrying. From certain angles it appeared to be a rodent, but knowing that this species feeds almost exclusively on fish, that didn't seem to ring true. As the picture clearly shows it is nothing but an addition of material to its nest.
We came across at least one, but more likely two Spotted Sandpipers Actitis macularius with young. Since Spotted Sandpiper is a polyandrous species, the adult birds we saw would have been males, tasked with the duty of taking care of the young in the first stages of their life.
In the same area a Northern Leopard Frog Lithobates pipiens did its best to remain camouflaged - not entirely successfully we concluded.
By the time we left Columbia Lake the sun had broken through and it was warm and pleasant. You truly do not have to stray far from home in this area to immerse yourself in nature. Thanks for dropping by and stay tuned to see what discoveries we make next week.