Thursday, 18 October 2018

Back from Australia

     Yesterday, we arrived back from Australia, after a long flight home, interrupted by an unplanned overnight stay in Hong Kong, but more about that in a later post. 
     I just wanted to say "Hello" to everyone. I will get back to your blogs shortly. I did in fact read a few while away but it was pretty hit and miss - we were busy! And I had iPad trouble to boot.
     One of our very frequent companions throughout three states was the enigmatic Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita).



     This species is very common to abundant in many areas and is viewed with less than unalloyed affection by many, especially if it tends to destroy all your efforts at gardening - before proceeding to shred the weatherstripping around your windows.  For us, however, it was spectacular, exotic, and often singularly confiding.



     We fell in love with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and our ardour never diminished.




     Their raucous cries were akin to a symphonic suite to us, their antics rivalled Olympic gymnasts, their sense of community was heart-warming. The affection displayed by a committed pair was palpable and evident.





     For me, and I suspect for Miriam, Franc and Carol too, the bold, brash, noisy Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, like Australians themselves,  is a symbol of joy and delight, it imparts a sense of independent thinking, a joie de vivre and the toughness it takes to survive in what at times is a harsh and unforgiving climate.



     Thanks for making our trip so memorable Cockie. We will never forget you!

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Taking a break


I will be away from blogging for about three weeks.
See you then!

Recommended reading: America. The Farewell Tour
by Chris Hedges

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Tuesday Rambles with David - Riverside Park, Cambridge, ON

11 September 2018

     It was only last winter that Francine and Jim, having driven past Riverside Park many times, decided to drop in and check it out. Since then we have made several outings there and have enjoyed it very much.



     We had often mused about the potential for warblers migrating through in the fall, so it was with this in mind that we organized our Tuesday ramble. Everyone was there except for Mary who is dealing with health issues.
     To no one's surprise American Robin (Turdus migratorius) was ubiquitous, and while it might seem to some that another picture of a robin is superfluous, I think that this image of a young bird is particularly appealing.


     The boardwalk in the winter is a magnet for birds who have quickly clued in to the fact that humans bring bird seed. Obviously, this behaviour is not confined to the winter months, because a little sunflower seed strewn along the rail by Carol and Judy quickly brought in a crowd. Unusual, and especially rewarding, was the arrival of this Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) displaying little trepidation about coming in close to take advantage of the bounty on offer.




     When we first spotted a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) it was just starting to feed on the large, juicy caterpillar of a Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia).


     I suspect we disturbed him because he flew off - but not far.
     It was not long before both male and female cardinals joined the other species to take advantage of the sunflower seeds on the rail. As you may see, moult is fairly advanced in these birds.




     When we checked on the caterpillar a while later it was missing - we concluded that the cardinal had returned to finish off its succulent meal.
     A male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was also showing evidence of moult.




     This female, however, was impeccable and quite resplendent in fresh fall attire.


     I am quite sure that wherever there are birds and people who observe them there are also species that are often overlooked due to their familiarity. Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscala) surely falls into this category. 


     It is by any reckoning a stunning species.
     Perhaps we might say the same thing about Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), a dazzling vision of electric blue, with crest and jaunty mien.



     There are resident Blue Jays and a migratory component from farther north. Recently summer inhabitants of the boreal forests have been leaving and passing through in the hundreds. Today Miriam and I sat on the patio and were enthralled as a steady stream of Blue Jays passed over our heads, the sun glinting off their plumage, their calls resonating through the unusually warm air.
     One does not always have to travel to remote areas to witness the wonders of nature.
     An American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) made sure that not all the seeds were taken by the birds.


     A few were eaten, but most were sequestered away for winter storage. We did not begrudge the squirrel its share.
     One of our most widely known, and best loved, birds is the Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and they certainly look dapper at this time of year.


     A bit of a love/hate relationship exists between people and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) but I am an unabashed admirer of this species. A flyby is enough to set my heart aflutter. 


         We were all very delighted indeed to see an Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) high atop a snag. This is a species that has become decidedly scarce in recent years.




      Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) are still here to enliven the woodlands, but soon will be departing with the onset of fall.


     You will remember that our original quest was for fall warblers and we spotted about a half dozen species, mostly high in the treetops, however, and with the foliage still intact almost impossible to photograph. 
     An exception was this Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) which was in the open briefly.


     Several Bay-breasted Warblers (Setophaga canstanea) were a little lower down and Franc did well to get this picture.


     We walked down a trail that radiates off the parking area, where we had seen Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) in the spring, to search for them again. We were not disappointed and it appears as though this largest of all North American woodpeckers had a successful breeding season.



     It was close to lunch time when we parted company, well satisfied with a very pleasant walk and a great assortment of birds. What better way to spend a Tuesday morning? I can't think of one!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Annual Visit of Waterloo Region Nature to SpruceHaven


15 September 2018

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman,  Shirley Bauman, Paul Bigelow, Barb Bowman, Jim Bowman, Ross Dickson, Mary Ann Vanden Elzen, Francine Gilbert, Franc Gorenc, Cathy Hale, Jim Huffman, Marion Kelterborn, Denise Leschak, Sandye Moores, Anne Morgan, Frank Steinmoeller, Marj Steinmoeller, Cathi Stewart.

Guests: Ella Bauman, Eric Bauman, Heather Bauman with two minor children, Barb Holowack, Donna Ivey, John Markvart.

Bird Banders: Kevin Grundy, Heather Polan (also a member of WRN).

     Unusually warm September weather greeted the enthusiastic members of Waterloo Region Nature and their friends, as we met for what has become a fall tradition - a discusssion about Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), a chance to observe bird banding up close, and a ramble through the varied habitats of SpruceHaven. 
     The soft light of early morning lent its own brand of magic to the day.


     As always, we started the day in the barn. The swallows departed a couple of weeks ago, but their nests bore mute testament to the activity taking place during the breeding season. It was a chance to refresh the memories of those who have done the tour before and explain our commitment to these birds to newcomers old and young. 



     Jim Huffman and Francine Gilbert are two of our most dedicated volunteers; always dependable, always cheerful, always willing to pitch in for the cause. 



     Not only do they monitor the nests in two barns each week, they willingly take a second shift when others can't make it. Jim is a superb carpenter and builds, fixes or modifies anything that we need done. And when he does it, it is done right!
     We are fortunate indeed to be able to count on these two dedicated naturalists. They contribute in no small way to our success.


     
     Kevin Grundy, our master bander, has been with us from day one; Kevin banded the first Barn Swallow nestling three seasons ago and we have banded virtually every baby swallow since. 


     Kevin sets up his nets on the weekends, spring and fall,  and our weekly activities have begun to yield results in terms of understanding the migratory patterns of warblers, thrushes and others, and the fact that SpruceHaven appears to be a stopover point for some species, possibly moulting and putting on weight before the long journey ahead of them.
     We are indebted to Kevin for his commitment and consistency, for his willingness to band birds at the crack of dawn before going off to work, for his good humour and his mentorship in training others. Much of what we do would be impossible without Kevin's participation.
    Heather Polan is one of two wonderful young biologists who put their heart and soul into helping out at SpruceHaven and at Blaze Farm. Under the watchful eyes of both Kevin and Ross Dickson, Heather has gone from relative neophyte to competent bander, full of confidence, mastering the fine details of aging and sexing birds


        Heather banded nearly all of the nestling Barn Swallows this year, meeting me at various times of the day, sometimes two and three times a week. She was always prompt, cheerful and professional.

  
     What can I say about Heather? What a joy to be associated with this truly delightful young woman. It is my good fortune indeed.
     Heather explained in careful detail every step of the banding operation and interacted with the children to make sure they were full participants in the day's activities.


     How thrilled they were to have the chance to release a bird and send it on its way.

Swainson's Thrush


     A Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) is a familiar species, but few had seen it so close, and all were in awe at the sheer beauty of the bird and were mesmerized to contemplate the migratory journey the bird is about to undertake.


     We wanted to show everyone the mist nets and to demonstrate how we remove the birds quickly and safely. On the way over an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) and a Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)  provided an interesting diversion.



     Everyone enjoyed seeing Kevin and Heather ply their trade at the nets.


          There was no shortage of willing hands to help carry the birds back to the banding table.



          Several years ago the Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) invaded North America, having probably arrived on freighters, and wasted no time in spreading across the continent.


     As we continued our walk the pastoral splendour of SpruceHaven did not fail to impress.


     Orb-weaver spiders were abundant, with Banded Argiope (Argiope trifasciata) seeming particularly ubiquitous.

Banded Argiope (Argiope trifasciata)


     Cathi Stewart had always wanted to come out to SpruceHaven but had prior commitments in the past. She was delighted to make it this time and was determined to take home a complete record!




     We made a brief trip into the woods, but did not linger due to the presence of biting insects in profusion.


      We did, however, succeed in allowing everyone to examine an Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodontid cinereus), the object of our quest.


     As we headed back to the house we stopped at the pond where an obliging Green Heron (Butorides virescens) permitted most people to get a good look.


     The Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were equally cooperative.


     As has been the case in the past, Dave, Sandy and Jamie invited everyone into their home to share in coffee, tea and sweet treats, with a chance to renew the bonds of friendship, fellowship and a joint commitment to nature.


     Ross Dickson was happy to pass on his expertise about lepidoptera to an attentive group of naturalists.


    Everyone had a fine morning; everyone learned a little; everyone benefitted from time spent with like-minded people.
     I wish to express my gratitude first and foremost to Dave, Sandy and Jamie for permitting us to exploit all the nooks and crannies of SpruceHaven to discover its wonders. Without their consent and active support none of this would be possible. I am equally grateful to the team of volunteers and helpers who contribute so much, who make my task a joy. My wife, Miriam, took all the pictures today, so that I was free to devote myself to our visitors, and I am grateful to her for that. She also helps me in myriad ways every day.
     Finally I am very grateful to the people who allocated their Saturday morning to coming to see what we do at SpruceHaven. So many of them are friends,  people for whom I have enormous affection, respect and admiration. To others I do not know as well, thank you for your interest. Please come back to see us again and spread the word every day that we need Nature - Nature does not need us. Let us preserve, protect and cherish it.