Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Return Visit to Riverside Park

30 January 2018

     What constitutes a perfect winter's day is probably a subjective judgement, but it seemed to me that this one fit the bill. The temperature was around minus 13, there was bright sunshine, fresh snow and a light breeze. Add to that the agreeable company of Judy and Miriam and the day was complete.
      We set out on our walk.


     This park is well used by bird lovers, many of whom bring seed and the birds know this. Judy sprinkled a few sunflowers seeds on the snow and within seconds birds were descending on them, including several Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata).



     It is not too far along the trail before one arrives at a boardwalk with bush on either side providing good cover for numerous species, but as soon as a little seed is placed on the rail birds appear as though from nowhere, including as many as four male and four female Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the same time, and barely beyond arm's length.




     Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) was not shy either.



     The park was tranquil with few people walking the trails (at least initially).



    There were a couple of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) interspersed with the ubiquitous American Tree Sparrows (Spizelloides arborea) and this is a very handsome species indeed.




     A Swamp Sparrow (Melopsiza georgiana) is not often encountered in the winter so it was especially pleasing to encounter this individual feeding with the other species on the seed we had laid out for them.


     Once again, the birds displayed a complete lack of temerity in approaching close, having become quite habituated to humans bearing treats.
     Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is one of the signature species of an Ontario winter landscape and we are always happy to have the company of this jaunty little bird.





     American Tree Sparrow was not at all reluctant to feast on the proffered seed, but this individual was content to feed on the seeds of bullrush.


     A male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) provided a stunning splash of colour.



     The Speed River mimicked its name as it flowed rapidly.


     From our vantage point on a bridge we could see both Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) and Common Goldneye (Bucephala clangula), but too far away to permit photogrpahy. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) stayed close to the shore, however, and bathed and splashed in water that would kill us in minutes.


     On the return leg of our walk several Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) put in an appearance, most content to roost in the trees, but a couple did come down to gather up seed. It was a contrast in feeding styles as every other species opened up the hull to get to the kernel inside, whereas the Mourning Doves ate the seeds whole, to be processed by their gizzard before entering the alimentary tract.



     When we first visited Riverside Park, Francine and Jim had told us about a Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that seemed to hang out in the same area, but we failed to see it. Today, it graced us with its presence, heralded by the fact that all the passerines suddenly disappeared and there was total silence.




     This outing was a regular Tuesday Ramble with David, but Franc and Carol are in Arizona, Jim and Francine had other plans, Mary was initially supposed to come but declined at the last moment, so it was just the three of us. 
     



     It was a lovely walk with great birds - and lots of them. Afterwards we all stopped in for a coffee together and enjoyed an extra half hour of each other's company. It is times like this when I really realize what truly good and interesting friends we have.
     I can hardly wait until next Tuesday when we'll do it all again.

     On a totally different note here is a staggering indictment of poverty in the United States. I urge you to read the full report.


Monday, 29 January 2018

A Couple of Hours on a Sunday Afternoon

28 January 2018

     There are a couple of local spots we haven't checked out for a while so Miriam and I decided to see what we could find.
     We had barely embarked on our afternoon jaunt when we came across a pair of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) together in a tree, early it seemed to us to be paired off, but they were clearly male and female, and were perched side-by-side. Unfortunately, the male flew off before Miriam could get her camera cocked, but the female remained for a picture.


     Our primary destination was the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs, but it was very icy and a bit of a hazard for walking so we didn't do the whole length of the trail, but there was a good deal to interest us on the few hundred metres we covered.
     A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) had been hard at work and we were hoping that it might return while we were there - but no such luck!


     Several Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) were much more obliging.


     The Mill Race is a well used trail and someone often distributes sunflower seeds at various points and these food deposits become magnets for birds, and, as we discovered for other other creatures too.
     I believe that this rodent is a Woodland Vole (Microtus pinetorum), although my level of expertise with rodents is not great, and if anyone can either confirm or correct this identification I would appreciate it.



    Its den was a hole in a tree stump and it would make quick dashes out to obtain a sunflower seed or two and quickly retreat out of sight.
     Black-capped Chickadees have become very accustomed to humans bearing food and there were scores of them all around. They are indeed a constant visual and auditory delight and a source of pleasure for people of all ages.


     In recent years, White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) have become equally confiding - at least along the Mill Race, where I am sure that simple observation of their chickadee brethren has led them to the knowledge that there is no danger in landing on an outstretched hand where food awaits.


     Recent mild temperatures have left the fields bare of snow, probably not a good thing from the farmers' standpoint, although there has been sufficient snow and rain so far that the moisture reserves in the soil are probably adequate.



     The protracted thaw of late has resulted in swollen rivers and ice has been heaved up over the banks.




     In fact, on the day of the recent Christmas Bird Count for Kids, the road I normally take to Cambridge was blocked by huge volumes of ice thrown up onto the road.
     A single male Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) plied his way along the Conestogo River, which only a few days earlier had been completely iced over.


     It was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon and as always nature held a few surprises for us. And to think we could have stayed home and watched TV!

Friday, 26 January 2018

2nd Annual Christmas Bird Count for Kids - 2018

26 January 2018

     Having inaugurated the Christmas Bird Count for Kids last year we were happy to do it again this year. 
     Our initial plans had to be scrapped due to severely cold weather and it was reorganized for today. Friday is not an ideal day for parents and children but it was a PD day at local schools so we gave it a go. The attendance was smaller than last year, but several enthusiastic children and their parents came out to count birds and learn about nature. It was a pleasure, as always to be involved with the children of today, the naturalists of tomorrow.
     In addition to several members of the staff at the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge where the event was held, I was happy to be joined by my good friend Fraser Gibson, as fine an all round naturalist as you could ever wish to meet, and a sterling fellow to boot.


     We started at the feeders behind the Eco Centre where the presence of lots of birds gave the children a fine start before setting out to walk some of the trails. The adults were engaged too!


     As might be expected the species at the feeders were common birds, but numerous, with much coming and going, providing great enjoyment for everyone.
     It was an ideal spot to contrast the plumages of male and female House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), with everyone especially appreciating the deep wine red of the males.


     Several Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) seemed to be content to rest in the trees, perhaps waiting for the other species to knock down enough seed onto the ground before descending to feed.



     This one looked like it was taking a snooze.


     White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) gave a textbook display of its head-down feeding strategy.



     Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) snagged seed from the feeders to carry them away to a branch where they hammered them open, holding the seed in their feet. It is safe to say that everyone loves a chickadee!


     It was a perfect winter's day, with the temperature hovering near the freezing mark, and we all enjoyed walking the trails.


     Several times we heard the distinctive chip note of Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and with a little patience were rewarded with excellent views of this beautiful bird.


     Back at the Eco Centre we all gathered to compare notes and enjoy coffee and hot chocolate.


     The children wrote their sightings on a list, each team taking pride in the birds they had observed and learned about.


     As mentioned earlier the number of children taking part was down from last year, but this did not detract from the enjoyment of the day. I have no doubt that we are all looking forward to the 3rd annual CBC for Kids to take place next year.
     Kudos to Jenna Quinn, Emily Leslie and Marg Paré for the work they did to bring this event to fruition. It was my pleasure to take part.

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter or Tundra Swan, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Gull sp., Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, American Goldfinch.    Total: 17.