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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A few Odds and Ends from the Woodlot

30 May 2018

     As regular readers of this blog will know I do a weekly bird survey at the University of Waterloo, but I always take note of other interesting discoveries too. 
     Most birds are now breeding, much of their song has become muted, they are secretive and we are entering the "slow" period for birders. It will be quiet until the hatch years birds birds fledge and join the adult population.
     The first bird I saw this morning was this leucistic American Robin (Turdus migratorius). 


     Leucism is a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation, resulting in white, pale or patchy colouration of the feathers - but not the eyes as in albinism.
     Each year we see a few American Robins manifesting leucism to one degree or another, so perhaps this species, or Turdus thrushes in general, have some inherent susceptibility to this condition. I will have to do a little research!
     A pair of Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) was busy feeding young with a veritable shuttle service being maintained by the two parents.




     Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is a very common bird, but for some reason I do not often encounter them in the woodlot. This individual was kind enough to stay put while I took a picture.


     For the most part Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) drakes take no part in raising their young, so it was quite unusual to see this devoted father taking on his full share of responsibility for his offspring.


     The sheer cuteness factor of recently hatched ducklings will never be diminished.



     Just before leaving the woodlot I came across this Hippodamia glacialis ladybug.



     It is quite large as ladybugs go, and is native to North America, making it a pleasing find when there are so many alien species that have found their way to this continent by one means or another.
     I have a couple more weeks to go until we suspend the monitoring until late August, but perhaps the woodlot has other secrets to reveal before we wind it up for the spring. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Final weekend of spring bird banding at Sprucehaven

26/27 May 2018
SpruceHaven, St. Agatha, ON

26 May 2018

     We seem to have just started banding for the spring session and it is already over. Kevin was unable to come one weekend due to family commitments and we got rained out on another so the activity has been shortened a little.
     For the first time this spring Debbie Hernandez was able to make it out to the nets and we were delighted to see her again.


     
     Since we last saw her Debbie has graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with an Honours BSc. in biology and is now contemplating her future. Whatever it holds we hope that she will continue to come and help out at SpruceHaven.
     We banded a few new species for the season including this Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia), a bird previously only recorded in the fall.


     It is interesting to look at the following photograph of the same bird taken from a slightly different angle. You will see that the grey throat has a much paler aspect, and in a couple of other photographs which were blurred unfortunately, it looked even whiter.


     I simply provide this comparison to illustrate the fact that a photograph can at times be misleading. Different light can portray a bird in tones quite unlike its true colours.
     This male Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)was one of two caught in the same net.


     A Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) is a delicately marked little bird, one which is often misidentified in the field by inexperienced birders, but there was no mistaking this bird in the hand.
     Heather carefully processed the bird and she and Kevin conferred on some finer points of aging and sexing.




     Kevin's tee shirt says, "I'm not normal," and I leave it up to you to judge how true this statement is! Suffice it to say, that Kevin would have been right at home as a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, or perhaps a star performer on The Goon Show!
     Here are a couple more pictures of Lincoln's Sparrow before release.




     It is not often that we capture a Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Perhaps this species is generally too wily to be caught in a mist net.


     Without a shadow of a doubt Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of our most beautiful birds.




     Here you see the detail of the waxy tips on the wings from which the bird derives its name.


     It would be pretty hard to tire of waxwings.



     Curiously several of our Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) nests held a single nut (walnut?). How these nuts got there is a matter of conjecture but perhaps they represent some kind winter storage for squirrels.


     Pileated Woodpecker (Dyocopus pileatus) is a species we have seen infrequently at SpruceHaven and Kevin's friend, John Pringle, visiting from England, managed this flight shot.



All species banded 26 May: Cedar Waxwing (1), Common Starling (1), American Goldfinch (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), Mourning Warbler (1), Brown-headed Cowbird (2), Common Grackle (2), Song Sparrow (2), Lincoln's Sparrow (1). Total: 9 species, 12 birds.

27 May 2018

     It was a slow day at the nets, fittingly perhaps on our final day of banding for the spring.
     Significantly, however, we trapped two more Mourning Warblers for a total of three in two days. Since most warblers have already moved north, and this species has bred locally in past years, it leads me to believe that perhaps they are breeding at SpruceHaven.
     A Barn Swallow in our nets was the first bona fide capture, other birds having been netted in/at the barn to establish which birds had returned to their natal site. This bird had not been previously banded and was not one of the nestlings banded last year.




     A male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is not a momentous capture, given the sheer number of this species at SpruceHaven, but this male was especially handsome and robust. This is a polygynous species and it is likely that this male has a harem of females.






     Just before we wrapped it all up, Vashti Latchman and her young son, bird devotee, Roddie, arrived for their first visit of the season.



     It was good to see them both and it was too bad that we had but a single Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) to show them. We will look forward to a return visit in the fall when we hope to have many interesting birds to fuel Roddie's already burgeoning interest in all things ornithological.

All species banded 27 May: Traill's Flycatcher (1), Barn Swallow (1), Mourning Warbler (2),  Red-winged Blackbird (2), Song Sparrow (1), Northern Cardinal (1).  Total: 6 species, 8 birds.

Gotta love this one.


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Francine requests, we deliver.

22 May 2018
Pinery Provincial Park,
Lambton Shores, ON

     Francine, for some time, has been asking that we take a trip somewhere that she can see Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), the latest bird of her dreams. We had initially planned to go to Rondeau Provincial Park last week, but we got rained out, and there was quite serious flooding in the park in any event.
     So we opted for Pinery Provincial Park where this species, along with a couple of other regionally significant species, is known to breed.
     Mary is away in Europe on a cycling trip, but Judy came over just before 07h:00 and we set off from home. Franc and Carol picked up Jim and Francine and they left around the same time. 
     We met just past the park entrance. It was cool but not unpleasant; a tad cloudy, but with light still adequate for photographs. We started our day at the Visitor Centre where most of us took advantage of the washrooms, and checked out the birds at the well-stocked feeders and in the surrounding woodland.
     A Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) announced its presence by continually repeating its rising "whee-eep" call, a sound we would hear oft repeated during our day in the park.



     A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) was defending a territory and yielded to no one.




     It gave us all pause to contemplate the epic journey this tiny gem weighing a mere 3 grams has made from Central America to breed here in Ontario. According to The Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5 there are 328 species of hummingbirds, all in the Americas, and this is the only species we regularly see in Ontario. How fortunate we are to spend our summer with this jewel.
     Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is not an uncommon species, but due to its habit of skulking in dense undergrowth and coming into the open for brief forays only, it is not a bird I see often. The Pinery seems to be the best place of all to see this species and a couple were active at the feeders.




     Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina) were common there too, feeding on the ground underneath the feeders, and squabbling with each other as birds are wont to do.





     A male and female American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) obligingly perched together on the same feeder. 



     A Brown-headed Cowbird (Moluthrus ater) came to get its share of the bounty.



     Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) is a delicately plumaged emberizid, often partly hidden when observed, so it was delightful to see one in the open at the feeders.




     This was not to be our final encounter with this species and you will see the remarkable sequence that Franc captured a little later on.
     Judy had checked with one of her contacts who knows Pinery Provincial Park well and was informed that at least three breeding pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers are known from The Heritage Trail, so we made that area the focus of our efforts.



     The open Oak Savannah woodland, characteristic of this area along the  southern shore of Lake Huron, is a very pleasant area to explore.




     Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was there to be enjoyed.



     Poison Ivy to be avoided!



     Great Crested Flycatchers were hardly ever out of earshot and several were  in clear view. 



     Francine is blessed with an "enthusiasm gene" and part of this trait manifests itself in her penchant to have a conversation with the birds, so she was often heard to say, "Good morning Mr. Great Crested," or other similar expressions of affectionate salutation. I have no doubt that the birds appreciated it.
     Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is not a common bird in Ontario, but The Pinery harbours a robust breeding population and we saw it frequently. I don't think any of us quite appreciated the amazing range of vocalizations of this species. I certainly didn't.




     We were getting towards the end of the trail and it was approaching lunch time, when I spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker fly into a tree, its white wing patches a veritable semaphore, but I lost it in the foliage. Within minutes, however, it flew to another tree and perched briefly in the open. Miriam got her binoculars on it, but unfortunately no one else did. Francine was disappointed, but bravely said, "I'm glad that you got to see it," and we left to find a picnic table where we could eat the copious quantities of food and drink we had all brought from home.
     A discussion ensued as to where we should go to next and it didn't take long to arrive at a consensus that we should give The Heritage Trail another try. It had been very active in the morning and we felt that this was the trail for the woodpecker.
     Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) were quite common and Franc got great shots of both an adult male and a first summer male.




          A Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) was a lifer for many of our group.



     Suddenly, a Red-headed Woodpecker was there right in front of our eyes, It moved, perched, flew to a nearby branch, its white wings flashing, perched again and nodded a greeting to Francine. 




     She replied effusively as befits such a momentous event, accompanied by a little victory dance I believe, and hugs all round. Before the day was out we would have two more sightings so her rapture was magnified.
     We did not really expect to see Field Sparrows in the forest, but there they were. It became obvious very quickly that they were a pair and ardour was the order of the day for them. Franc captured this remarkable copulatory sequence.









     In the final shot as the male is released from his ecstasy you can even see the cloaca. Were I a smoker, I would have lit my cigarette slowly and inhaled deeply in celebration of this tryst.
     Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) was seen several times.




     The incessant song of the Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina) was a constant background sound and there were many individuals present in the woodland.




     Judy and Miriam were having an invigorating conversation about the songs of various species, their similarities and differences, and I am sure they both learned a good deal, and reinforced their earlier knowledge of the song and calls of familiar birds.
     A Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) is always a delight.



     As is a Myrtle Warbler (Setophaga coronata).



     Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is a hardy bird and is generally the first tyrant flycatcher to arrive from the south, but I had not seen one earlier this year.




     I mentioned earlier that I was surprised to see Field Sparrows in the woods and I was equally surprised to find this male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) in this habitat.



     Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoenecius) are especially fond of marshes but can be found in many other vegetational zones too - witness this female.



     It was time to leave and we decided to make one last stop at the Visitor Centre. On the way we spotted a half dozen Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) and Miriam managed this quick shot as they scurried off into the undergrowth.



     We needed a bathroom stop before leaving the park and I visited the bookstore where I bought a copy of Tim Birkhead's latest opus, The Most Perfect Thing - Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg. Great book! If you don't have a copy rush out and get one.
     We hugged each other as we always do, well satisfied with a "walk in the park" and left for the hour and a half (or thereabouts) drive home. I am sure that Francine was wracking her brain the whole way to think of the next bird she wants to order up!

All species 22 May: Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Grey Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal.  Total: 42