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Sunday, 25 February 2018

Snowy Owl (Harfang des neiges)

25 February 2018

     I was advised yesterday evening by our good friend, Anne Morgan, that she and her husband Alan, along with Virgil and Beth Martin had been hunting for Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and had met with resounding success. Even though we had a busy day ahead of us Miriam and I decided that we could spare a couple of hours to search for these northern birds who will soon be leaving our area. It was sunny and the temperature was 8°C, unusually warm for this time of year. 
     We had not gone far when we saw several Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) gambolling in the sky, ostensibly involved in courtship flights. The spectacle they put on is quite amazing, twisting and turning, tumbling like circus acrobats. We were able to photograph this individual before it left its perch to join in the fun.


     The Region of Waterloo is the epicentre of Mennonite residency in Ontario, and being Sunday morning, the meeting houses were full. The horses, all lined up at the hitching rails waiting for their owners to return, presented quite a sight, as did the conveyances, each with a "Slow Moving Vehicle" sign emblazoned on the back.






     The fact that it has been so mild of late (and is predicted to continue warmer than usual) means that the sap has started to flow in the Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum), much earlier than is normal, and many trees bore telltale sap-collecting pails. Plastic has pretty much taken over now, but the old metal pails still in use not many years ago were certainly better suited to a rural landscape, and seemed a natural part of the annual cycle.


     In fact, many large operations no longer use pails at all and have a network of plastic pipes connecting the trees to a central collection area.
     Our first Snowy Owl was a male, quite far off and sitting on the last patch of snow in the field.


     We drove along keeping a keen eye peeled for others and finally our efforts were handsomely rewarded. A female was located hunkered down behind a stump, sheltering from the wind. And it was very close to the road. By using the car as a blind, and basically letting the car roll very slowly, with intermittent stops,  we were able to get a series of photographs.

     





     This truly is a magnificent creature and it matters not how many times I have seen one, a sense of awe and reverence takes over. It is akin to being in the presence of greatness.





     Tomorrow looks fairly open with only a few discretionary chores to take care of, so I think we might embark on a search again. After all the Snowies will soon be leaving us and we will have to wait another nine months or so until we see them return. We wish them good hunting on the tundra, with plentiful prey. May they raise large families to send south to fill our hearts with joy next winter.

Addendum to this post 26 February 2018: We went out again today and discovered another seven Snowy Owls. Remarkable!

Also - Only in America: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB7MwvqCtlk

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Great Backyard Bird Count 2018


17 February 2018

     For the sixth year in a row Waterloo Region Nature has conducted a Great Backyard Bird Count, organized by that stalwart of stalwarts, Mary Ann Vanden Elzen.


     In life you meet people who leave their mark due to their good nature, their dedication and their sheer humanity. Mary Ann is one of those people, a wonderful friend and colleague, a delight and an inspiration.
     We all met at a local shopping plaza to car pool and depart for our first hosts on the morning's itinerary.


      By the time we left the parking lot about twenty-five people had joined our group and we headed off to the beautiful rural property of Jim Cappelman and Irene Simpson who opened their doors to everyone and provided copious snacks, including hot coffee and mulled cider. Their little cinnamon buns were delicious! Everything was, of course.

Irene and Jim


     Jim and Irene's poodle, Mojo, having given everyone the appropriate welcoming licks, muscled in to join the photograph session.
      Now this is the kind of birding that even the faintest of faint hearts can enjoy, even the wimpiest disparager of winter can revel in. You stand by a series of large windows looking out onto an array of bird feeders, all the while sipping cider and munching on sweets. It doesn't get much better than this!




     At this time of year one does not expect to see a large number of species, especially in the all too brief time we spent there, but there was a pleasing variety nonetheless. Several participants were new to our club and new to birding, so the fact that the birds were so close enabled those of us with a little more experience to explain some of the finer points of identification and provide a little extra information.

Hairy Woodpecker (Leuonotopicus villosus)

American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)


Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) and American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)


Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)


    All too soon it was time to move on to our next destination.



All species at the Cappleman property: Canada Goose (29), Mourning Dove (15), Downy Woodpecker (4), Hairy Woodpecker (1), Black-capped Chickadee (6), American Goldfinch (7), Dark-eyed Junco (4), American Tree Sparrow (1), Northern Cardinal (3). 
Total: 9

     Our next stop was at the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge where we all assembled at the Eco Centre to observe the feeders there. Once again goodies were on hand in the form of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, brownies and cookies. The view of the feeders (which look like they need a little repair) was best outside at this location.




     A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) was perched at the side of one of the feeders with a broken perch; the other feeder was missing the perch altogether.

    A few dedicated watchers gathered in the parking lot for a picture before going in for refreshments.



     We had been a little surprised not to have seen House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) at the Cappelman feeders, but we made up for it here.




         A cooperative Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) was back and forth at the feeders.




        It was well observed by several delighted birders.





     All species at rare Charitable Research Reserve: Mourning Dove (1), Downy Woodpecker (2), Hairy Woodpecker (1), Blue Jay (2), Black-capped Chickadee (4), White-breasted Nuthatch (1), House Finch (20), American Goldfinch (8), American Tree Sparrow (1), Northern Cardinal (1). Total: 10


     We left rare and travelled to Lakeside Park in Kitchener where we were led on a short walk by Mary Ann with an informative commentary about the park.




     Lakeside Park had existed for many decades with a contiguous unit of forest 
owned by the City of Kitchener, adjacent to Shoemaker Pond, but effectively forming part of the park. In 2009 the City declared that it had identified various properties as "surplus parkland," ripe for development, and this parcel of forest was one of them. I cannot think of a more oxymoronic statement than that! The Lakeside neighbourhood arose in strong opposition to this proposal (as did many others in park lands affected throughout the city). In the end, with the help of many individuals the Lakeside woodlands were saved.



    


     For many of us, myself included, it was our first visit to this location, and we were very happy to make the discovery. You may rest assured that I will be back and a Tuesday Morning Ramble with David or two will be happening here.




     The City of Kitchener has embraced the park in a very positive way, and my good friend, Josh Shea, the Natural Areas Coordinator for the city, has been instrumental in various enhancements to the park, including the planting of native species of trees and the creation of a turtle beach. Mary Ann was laudatory in her discussion of the level of cooperation between the city and dedicated citizens.




     The artwork for the signs was created by Emily Damstra, a superb local artist, who resides nearby in Guelph. Emily has been commissioned in so many ways and I invite you to check out her work on line. We are fortunate indeed to have such talent in our own community.
      Miriam espied this maple leaf lying intact on the snow and it seemed like a very fitting image for a walk by passionate Canadians.


All species at Lakeside Park: Red-tailed Hawk (1), Downy Woodpecker (1), American Crow (1), Black-capped Chickadee (1).

     Our final stop was at the home of Alan and Brenda Holvey, where they welcomed us all for lunch, having ordered enough pizzas to feed our group of around twenty people. In addition they had grapes, cookies and other items available and coffee and soft drinks. It was truly amazing hospitality.


     I don't think that Alan and Brenda will be upset if I mention that they are around ninety years of age, still in their own home, vibrant, humorous and relevant. It was a treat to be with them.
     Kudos go to another member of Waterloo Region Nature, Marion Kelterborn, who lives a few houses away and came to help the Hoveys get everything ready for our visit. Marion is another one of those people who personifies kindness.
     The activity at their feeders was not especially great with most of the birds being House Sparrows (Passer domesticus).


     I have missed these backyard bird counts in previous years, always having had a conflict which did not permit me to take part. I can assure you that Miriam and I will henceforth be regulars and we will put the date on our calendar as soon as it is announced.
     I enjoyed myself immensely and I know that Miriam did too. Our thanks go out again to Mary Ann for organizing such an enjoyable event, to all the gracious hosts and my fellow naturalists who came out to enjoy both the birds and each other. 
     Waterloo Region Nature truly is The Best Little Naturalists Club in Ontario!

All species at the Hovey residence: Downy Woodpecker (1), Black-capped Chickadee (2), House Sparrow (40), American Goldfinch (1), Dark-eyed Junco (1).

Interesting reading:  

http://e360.yale.edu/features/in-defense-of-biodiversity-why-protecting-species-from-extinction-matters

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Tuesday Rambles with David - The Linear Trail, Cambridge, ON

13 February 2018

     Six of us met in Cambridge to enjoy a fine winter walk along the Linear Trail in Cambridge. The temperature was minus 13.5°C when we left home, but it was sunny with little wind. It was a fine February day in Ontario to ramble in search of birds.
     As soon as we got onto the trail we observed Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) on the river, but the most joyful thing of all was to hear a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) singing - the first courtship song we have heard this year. The calendar may not say it is spring but this bird knows that it is time to pursue a mate. The joyful refrain, so familiar to us all, lifted our already high spirits and we set off along the trail to see what else we could discover. Adding to our pleasure was the sight of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) also in courtship mode.


     There was quite a bit of open water on this section of the Speed River and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), a few Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) and four swans of unknown identity, since their heads were tucked under their wings, rested on the ice at the edge of the frigid stream.


     There is no winter maintenance in the park, and the path is merely an area of snow beaten down by walkers. We plodded on.


     The scenes all around us were classic winter postcards.


     Hoar frost had accumulated on some of the trees and sparkled in the sunlight.


     The waterfowl on the river looked serene, unfazed by the conditions they cope with so well.


     It was easy to know it was February; the sun is higher in the sky and its rays contain more warmth. As we stood in the open its soothing heat was wonderful and at times, given that we were dressed for cold weather walking, we were almost too hot.
     The unchallenged highlight of the day came in the form of about a half dozen male Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) feeding on the fruit of  Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina). This species is primarily migratory and I have never before seen them in February. The enchanting colours of the bluebird, the deep wine red of the fruit, and the clear blue sky all made for a wildlife experience that is hard to beat. We were all enthralled.    
     






     I only wish that I had brought a supply of meal worms to give these hardy birds a nutritious boost.
     The male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) didn't take backseat to anyone in terms of a splash of colour in a landscape predominated by white.


     The ice formations on the river were impressive, and one can only hope that when the thaw comes it is gradual, or localized flooding will be a strong possibility.


     Surely one of the most overlooked birds is Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) but as this adult in non-breeding plumage shows it is a very handsome species.


     It was time to turn around and head back. When we got to the section of the river where we had seen the swans and geese earlier, we noted that the four birds we had observed were three adult Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and one juvenile.


     The Canada Geese and Mallards still loafed in the vicinity.


     In addition to the Mute Swans, however, two Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) had joined the group.


     My friend, Noushka, will be happy that these birds are untagged!


     Miriam was able to capture both species of swan together in the same picture.


     As always it was a wonderful way to spend a Tuesday morning. Judy, Mary, Jim, Francine and Miriam are the finest of companions. Franc and Carol will be back next week to rejoin our group and we will look forward to continuing this weekly tradition for as long as we all can still walk!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Mallard, Common Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Starling, Eastern Bluebird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, American tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.   Total: 19.