Friday, 29 December 2017

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Pic à ventre roux) on our feeder

28 December 2017

     Recently all of North America has been experiencing a monumental cold snap, the like of which has seldom been seen before. Overnight from 27 December to 28 December in the Region of Waterloo we broke a record which had stood for a hundred years when the mercury plunged to minus 24.2°C, and taking into account wind chill, minus 31°C.
     Resident birds have to survive in these conditions at a time when we are barely past the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and they still have minimal hours in which to forage.
     We feed birds primarily for the pleasure they bring us it must be said, but under these conditions our feathered friends really do need a helping hand.
     As far as I can recall we have only seen Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) twice before in our backyard, and then only as a casual visitor. We had not previously witnessed it feeding.
     Imagine our delight, therefore, when we looked out to see a female feeding on one of our suet feeders.


     You can even see the feint smudge of a red belly from which this species gets its name.
     This was not a casual visit to the feeder, the bird stayed there for quite a while and bolted down as much food as it could pry from the frozen block of suet.




     Not only did it feed voraciously the first time around, about an hour later we observed it back at the feeder gorging again. We can only hope that this intake of fat will buffer the bird against the cold and help it to survive the long, dark, bitterly cold night.
     Today we were occupied with the Linwood Christmas Bird Count so we were not at home to see whether the bird returned, but we hope it did, and we further hope that it will make our yard a regular stop, even when these dire conditions have ended.
     Tomorrow, one or the other of us will be home most of the day, so we will keep a close eye on the feeders to see whether the bird returns to take advantage of the food we have on offer. Today I installed an additional suet feeder so perhaps it will bring a friend!
     
      

Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas Day Chez Nous

25 December 2017

     We enjoyed Christmas Day with family yesterday so Miriam and I were quite happy to spend the day at home today, particularly given the amount of snow that had fallen overnight. 



     Today would not be an ideal day for travel. I made sure that the bird feeders were all topped up, however, and we were treated throughout the day to a variety of species, included a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) that menaced the other birds, but left as quickly as it came before we could get a camera on it.
     American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is by far the most common species in the back yard and at times we have around thirty of them all jostling for position at the feeders.



     Some have to patiently wait their turn in the trees.



     The collective name for a group of goldfinches is a "charm," and we certainly concur with that epithet.
     No less charming, however, is a House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus); witness this male on a branch.


    Up to a half dozen Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) are generally present, and they are often the first birds to arrive at sunup. They seem content to perch for a while and wait for the messy finches to strew seed on the snow where the Mourning Doves descend to feed.


     American Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is never far from an easy meal.


     At least two White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) frequent the feeders, possibly three, sometimes feeding and at other times retrieving seeds to stash away as emergency rations when the grip of winter really tightens.



     Of late a couple of American Crows (Corvus brachyrynchos) have been visiting on a fairly regular basis and we hope that we can encourage these wonderful intelligent birds to feel at home with us.


     We save all the fat we trim from meat and freeze it. When we have enough we put it outside in a feeder and it is well patronized by Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens).
     The birds never fly in directly to the feeder but always land at an intermediate point.


     Once they drop onto the feeder, however, they feed for a while.



     Our feeders always provide us with an endless source of enjoyment and not a little education in the process. It will soon be time to visit the feed mill to replenish our supplies. The rewards are well worth the investment.
     On a completely different note, Miriam found this gem which is worthwhile sharing with everyone.


Friday, 22 December 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Quest for Snowy Owl (Harfang des neiges)

19 December 2017

     We decided that what we would all most like for Christmas was a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) so we set off to scour the areas where these denizens of the north frequently spend the winter, especially in years when there is insufficient food on their tundra habitat. 
     Mary was not with us, having just returned from a visit to Florida with her daughter, but the other seven of our usual group of eight set off. Franc as always had his camera at the ready. Sometimes I think it is welded to his hand!
     It was not long before we found our first bird (in total we had seven sightings of at least five birds) - a beautiful female.


     Ironically, we have had a mild spell of late and most of the snow has melted, but the brown substrate gives a little better chance of seeing a bird.

     
      You can see from the images above how the birds seek out remaining patches of snow to roost during the day.
      Under any conditions they are magnificent; in flight ghostly and surreal.


      
     A male is noticeably smaller than a female, and almost pure white. This is the Snowy Owl that most people conjure up in their minds. 


     When there is a lot of snow on the ground a male can be very difficult to spot. In flight they are sublime.



       Snowy Owls are not the only visitors from the north. We saw as large a flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) as we have ever seen, certainly in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 birds, although it is very difficult to get a good indication of a swirling flock of these avian gems.


     Here is a little closer detail.


     Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) - known as Northern Shrike here in North America (why we are different from the rest of the world I don't know) - is an uncommon visitor to our parts during the winter, but is not easy to find. Sometimes I go a whole winter without a single sighting, so we were ecstatic to have this close view - and it was a lifer for Franc, Carol, Jim and Francine.



     Just before leaving "Snowy Owl" territory, we spotted another large female on a discarded piece of farm equipment, probably a different bird from the one we had seen earlier - but who can be sure?



     Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are notoriously hard to photograph, for often in the past it was a gun that a human wielded, not a camera, and Franc is to be congratulated for these fine images.



     What a great afternoon of birding! I am sure we will do it again.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Everyone


     All of the decorations on our tree are hand made and about 95% of them were made by Miriam. It seems to me that it speaks to the spirit of the season far more than buying commercially made products and I am always happy when she decorates it (she doesn't let me near when she is doing it!)
    And so to EVERYONE regardless of colour, creed, nationality, sexual orientation, political affiliation - to every fellow human on this earth, Miriam joins me in wishing you nothing but the very best for this holiday period with my fervent hope that 2018 will bring you joy, happiness and success.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

     Winter in Ontario means snow. Sometimes not so much, sometimes the stuff that buries houses.
    We spent last weekend in Ottawa with my daughter, Caroline, her husband, Andrew, and our two grandchildren Sam and Will, who are now by the way, both taller than their grandpa. Shouldn't there be a law against that?
    We arrived on Friday, early afternoon, and all was dry. We did hit a couple of snow squalls on the way from Waterloo to Ottawa, but nothing serious.
    Overnight, however, from Friday into Saturday, several centimetres of snow fell, and the landscape was transformed. On Saturday afternoon we decided to go for a walk at Petrie Islands Park, one of our favourite spots to do a little birding; an area that over the years has been extremely productive.
     There was still open water and a lone Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) had decided to tough out the early winter and was still making a living. That may soon change as temperatures begin to dip and even the Ottawa River freezes up. Ice was forming along the shore.



     American Beavers (Castor canadensis) have been busy laying in winter storage, and there was evidence of their depredation everywhere. 




     The extent to which a family of beavers can transform a landscape is nothing short of amazing.
     In terms of birds, the most exciting find was a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) who obligingly alerted us to their presence by a volley of their loud staccato call. This is a spectacular bird by any standards.






     In fact, birds in general were sparse, not unexpected given the time of year.
     We had a great walk, however, with much to interest us and returned home well satisfied with our afternoon perambulation. 
     The next day was a little colder, but still very pleasant, so we all decided to set off again, this time in the woods surrounding the neighbourhood where Caroline and Andrew live, and combine a bracing walk with the dog's daily exercise.
     Here, at the trailhead, are Andrew, Caroline, and Nalla, their faithful companion.



     The woods were snowy and very appealing, with crisp sounds underfoot, snow laden conifers,  and the cheerful accompaniment of chickadees, woodpeckers and nuthatches.



     Someone seems to have made it a Christmas project to install bird feeders deep in the woods and adorn them for the season.



     The feeders were empty, however, otherwise there would doubtless have been a constant parade of birds.
     Nalla revels in a romp in the woods but never gets too far ahead without checking back to make sure that her human charges are not lagging too far behind.



     We returned home after a couple of hours for a welcome glass of wine (maybe two) and one of Caroline's always superb dinners.
     When we left Ottawa on Monday morning the temperature was minus 18°. Winter has truly arrived, whatever the calendar says.
     Yesterday was the day for our regular Tuesday Ramble with David and we elected to walk along the Mill Race Trail. Mary is away in Florida, Franc was feeling under the weather and Carol had other plans so we were just five.
     Snow is not confined to Ottawa as you may see.



     Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a year-round resident and both males and females were common.




     This pair of Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) seemed unfazed by the snow, which was falling heavily at times.



     Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) deals with winter with aplomb.



     The trail has such a different aspect from season to season and in some ways winter is the most appealing.




     One certainly doesn't have to worry about mosquitoes biting!
     We lost count of the number of Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) but they were very common indeed.




     This Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) had not yet retired to spend the winter under the ice, perhaps in a comfortable beaver den, warm and dry.



     As naturalists in a northern land we celebrate winter and all that it has to offer. I urge anyone who dreads the advent of the season to get out and enjoy it - dress warmly, keep your eyes and ears open and a whole world will reveal itself to you.
     And for those of you who have just read this blog post, enjoy this wonderful compilation.