Thursday, June 28, 2018

Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne)

     Those of you who read my blog regularly will recognize the name Franc Gorenc and know that Franc is a photographer sans pareil who acts as official photographer on our Tuesday Rambles, and unselfishly permits me to use his pictures in any way that I see fit. He never expresses any notion that he should have control over the output on the blog, never demurs at the finished product. His only stipulation is that his name appear on the picture; a more modest requirement I could not imagine.

     And so, while nominally dedicated to the Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia), this post is no less an homage to Franc, a great friend, superb photographer and a generous soul - and if ever you go to his house, the best host (or maybe that title should go to Carol!)
     The other day Franc and I were reviewing the hundred or more pictures he had taken of Caspian Tern on our recent trip to Grindstone Creek. Normally Franc is ruthless in eliminating what he considers to be sub par results (most of us would think we had graduated from photography school!), but on this occasion there were so many excellent pictures that it would have been a travesty to discard many of them.
     By way of background I should point out that Caspian Tern is the world's largest tern, approaching the size of a medium sized gull. It breeds on all four Canadian Great Lakes. It flies with confidence, almost with a swagger, with shallow strong wingbeats and a majestic appearance. Its blood red bill gives it the demeanour of a bold pirate. It dives with speed, precision and accuracy.
     I am showing below two sequences captured by Franc that present remarkable images of this species in action. Few words are required from me. Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them for best results.

     In the third picture above the bird had banked out of its dive, having lost sight of the fish presumably, and powered upwards to resume its patrol.

     Here is another successful feeding foray.

     What a magnificent body of work, worthy of any textbook coverage of this species.
     I am sure you will wish to join me in congratulating Franc on superb results, and expressing your appreciation at being able to see them. Bravo Franc!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Review - Birds of Chile, A Photo Guide - Princeton University Press

     I cut my birding teeth on conventional field guides and confess to having had until quite recently a preference for artwork versus photography. The premise was that a skilled wildlife illustrator (and there are many I admire) could render an image of the bird showing ALL relevant field marks, seldom possible in a photograph.
     And therein lies the rub. One is often hard pressed to see the bird as depicted in a traditional field guide, with imperfect angles, shading, distance and other factors needing to be dealt with in the field. A photograph, though not always definitive, presents a more realistic impression of the bird as seen in life.  And with the ubiquity of digital cameras (everyone has one!) many different angles are possible, and with access to the photographs of myriad dedicated birders, multiple shots of the same species are available. In this way sexes, age categories, moult and variations in seasonal plumage may be depicted.

     Birds of Chile is a splendid example of the new genre of photographic field guides. Two eminently qualified veterans of Chilean birding, Steve Howell and Fabrice Schmitt, provide not only a range of their superb photographs, they call upon others to fill the gaps where their own pictures are deemed inadequate or they have not managed to photograph a species. The result is a stunning collection of all the birds of this fascinating country with so many radically different faunal zones containing species uniquely adapted to each habitat.

     A section at the front of the book deals with Geography, Habitat and Bird Distribution and lists families typically found in the various zones. This is comprehensively done and a thorough reading of it serves to familiarize the reader with the regions he/she will be visiting before even going there, and knowing what birds to expect.
     Each group of birds is introduced to the reader with a succinct summary of relevant characteristics. I found the way that the birds are grouped both interesting and useful. For example, there are headings such as "Swimming Waterbirds" and "Flying Waterbirds." I can well imagine that for a novice birder divisions such as this would be immediately helpful in narrowing down the range of species to be identified. And if that is not enough there is also a section called "Walking Waterbirds!" 

     A system of arrows to highlight salient features hearkens back to the Peterson system, a technique that has never become redundant and is perhaps the most useful artifice of all time as it relates to identification markers.
     Many of the photographs depict birds in their habitat, further assisting observers in identifying the species they are confronted with.

     The taxonomy is up to date, generally in line with the IOC Checklist, and where there are differences or deviations, full explanatory notes are provided.
     When I birded in Chile a few years ago, I took with me the excellent guide produced by Alvaro Jaramillo and very capably illustrated by Peter Burke and David Beadle. It served me well, but I can only imagine how much better prepared I would have been had I had a companion copy of Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide.
     Produced in a 5 3/4" x 8 1/4" format it is ideal for carrying in the field and fits easily into the pocket of a vest or into the standard pouches many birders carry on their belt or across their shoulders. At 500 grams it is no burden to tote around.
     Chile is a fascinating country to visit, friendly and welcoming and the birding is superb. I recommend that you get yourself down there as soon as you can and don't forget to take with you Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide. It will serve you very well indeed.

Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide
Steve N. G. Howell and Fabrice Schmitt
Paperback/$29.95/24.95/240 pages/ 5 3/4 x 8 1/4
Publication date: 19 June 2018 

Friday, June 22, 2018

1,000th Bird Banded at SpruceHaven

22 June 2018

     This morning, the 1,000th banding of a bird at SpruceHaven took place, an auspicious event indeed.
     No. 1,000 was a ten-day old baby Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), from nest number 28, one of five healthy young in that nest, and it now bears the band number 2631 97104.

     It seemed especially appropriate that Heather, having her first session banding nestlings (under Kevin's careful supervision), was able to get a day off work to permit her to do this. As we all expected she handled it like the true pro she is.
     Sandy got up early to witness the event and here is a picture memorializing the occasion.

Kevin, Heather, Sandy
     We have enjoyed a remarkable period of success at SpruceHaven and it sometimes is hard to believe that we have only been involved in this venture for two and a half years.

     Our thanks go out to Dave Westfall, and Jamie and Sandy Hill; without their consent nothing could take place. Kevin Grundy, our master bander continues to inspire us all with his professionalism, dedication and consummate skill, to say nothing of his depth of knowledge about birds and his ability to age and sex species often without referring to the text.
     I know that he has been an inspiration and a fine mentor to Heather and Daina. Unfortunately, Daina was unable to be with us today (she is out of town doing field work) but she was with us in spirit and we acknowledge the wonderful contribution she has made to everything we do.
     A morning spent with Kevin, Heather and Daina is a delectable experience, the likes of which few people get to enjoy. I am lucky that I get to do it all the time.
     Josh Shea has been out to help us several times and we acknowledge his good humour, helpful manner and willingness to pitch in and assist where needed.
     Debbie Hernandez is the newest member of our group and comes out to learn whenever she gets a chance. 
     Ross Dickson has always been willing to help when called on and provided yeoman service filling in for Kevin when he had the nerve to take a vacation during banding season!
     This year, for the first time, David Lamble and Merri-Lee Metzger operated the nets on a couple of occasions mid week when others were working.
     Before returning No. 2631 97104 we took a couple of final pictures.

     May he/she return to SpruceHaven next spring and have a long and fruitful life thereafter. He/she has already brought much joy to OUR lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tuesday Rambles with David, Burlington/Hamilton

12 June 2018

     As every birder knows, when the birds are well into their breeding cycle, and the males are quiet, and every waking moment is spent provisioning young in the nest, birding is slow! But we still go out to enjoy what we can find, and to enjoy nature in all its summer glory.
     Seven of our regular "gang of eight" spent a very pleasant day together, beginning at Woodland Cemetery in Burlington. This is a very old cemetery with many mature trees and has been a favoured spot for birders for as long as I can remember.

     It is certainly the kind of place one would be surprised not to find a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

     American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is an early (and prolific) breeder, routinely having two broods, and often three, so juvenile birds evolving into full independence were to be expected.

     As I have mentioned in previous posts Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) seem to be especially ubiquitous this year and several were heard and seen at the cemetery.

     This friendly Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) was busy working inside a hole in a tree, seemingly excavating the interior, but we could not be sure.

     To no one's surprise Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) were easy to find.

     From Woodland Cemetery it is but a short drive down to Grindstone Creek where an interesting range of species can generally be found.

     The unchallenged "star of the show" was Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) with several individuals putting on a textbook demonstration of tern flight and fishing prowess. We were all captivated and I think that Franc's camera was smoking as he fired off frame after frame.

     A few Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were on the wires and some were seen nesting under a bridge.

     American Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) were also seen flying out from under the bridge, but we could not see any nests, possibly because it was impossible without getting in the water to see all the way underneath. In the past I have seen both species nesting in close proximity so it is quite possible that they are coexisting here. Franc did well to capture one of these feathered bullets in flight.

     It was quite a day for hirundines actually and Miriam photographed a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) on the wire.

     Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) also joined in the aerial acrobatics and landed briefly in front of us.

     Canada Geese(Branta canadensis) were seen all around, many in family groups. This pair escorted two goslings, leading me to think that heavy predation had occurred since this species routinely lays six eggs, and sometimes as many as ten. Young goslings are easy targets for foxes, coyotes, hawks and others, despite the best efforts of the parents to defend their young.

     The goslings here are much bigger and have adult type plumage; and one more than the previous group survived the rigours of goose infancy.

     A Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sepedon) sped through the water in sinuous motion. 

     We expected it to slither up onto a rock to bask in the warm sun but it never did and we lost sight of it.
     A Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) flew back and forth over the bay for a while and several times made as if to plunge, but it finally departed to try its luck elsewhere.

     Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are usually numerous at this location, but today we saw relatively few. Swimming, perched or flying, this species presents a study in grace.

     Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were calling all around and even though some males were still displaying most of the females seemed already to be preoccupied with breeding.

     We found a picnic table in a shaded spot and enjoyed a pleasant lunch, following which we went over to Princess Point, a segment of the Cootes Paradise wetland complex, to scout out the trails there.

     Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in small numbers were spotted here and there.

     And American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga aestiva) was quite common.

     There are several tracts of grassland at Princess Point and this Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) was right at home there.

     It is rare today to see Tree Swallows nesting in natural cavities, most taking up occupancy in nest boxes provided by caring humans. Thus, it was with great delight that we came across this pair nesting in a hole in a tree. If you look carefully you can see that the male has captured a dragonfly, a remarkable prey item for a Tree Swallow, and is delivering it to the nest.

     It was doubly exciting when we discovered a second natural cavity nesting situation. I don't ever remember this happening twice in the same day.

     Another familiar cavity-nesting species is White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis).

     We assumed that this female Northern Cardinal was already actively seeking food along with her mate to satisfy hungry mouths back at the nest.

     Perhaps this is equally true for this female American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla).

     A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in flight is always a dramatic sight; hearkening back to the dawn of avian life on earth it seems; prehistoric, yet beautiful and grand.

     A Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) was seen probing for food along the shore.

     And Franc also managed to capture an individual in flight.

     If you have seen a Spotted Sandpiper in flight you will know how rapidly the wings flutter in a characteristic frenzied, jerky motion, and you will appreciate the skill involved in freezing the wings like this.
     We saw both adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and I think the crowd-pleasing performance of this juvenile winds up the day perfectly. No further commentary is needed from me!

     I hope you are glad that you came along for the ride.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.