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Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Barn Swallows (Hirondelles rustiques) Ready to face the World

30 July 2018

     When you work with Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) as much as I do, you develop a special attachment to the birds, and in a way they become like family.
     Many of the young birds that have hatched this year have left the nest but there are still several nests with young of various ages awaiting their chance at life. I was especially touched to see young birds right at the lip of their nests just trying to pick up courage to make that first flight into the great unknown. Some of their siblings have already left the nest. This one has made the flight from the nest to the window in the barn and is measuring up the outdoors, trying to figure out trees, grass and sky perhaps, a scampering squirrel, even the feel of raindrops, the gentle caress of the breeze. 


     Until now its entire world has been the confines of the cup nest where it was born.
     Two nests, side by side had birds ready to go. They were still being fed by their parents but try as I might I was unable to get a shot of the food exchange; it happens in the blink of an eye.
     First there was one.


     And then there were two.



     Nest No. 38 is right alongside Nest No. 39 and a similar level of trepidation gripped the occupants.




     By this morning, however, (31 July) all had left their nest to embark on the hazardous journey of life. Sadly many of them will not survive to even migrate out of Canada, but those that do will be the healthiest and fittest, ready to pass on their genes to subsequent generations of Barn Swallows. 
    We have done our best to help them on their way and we hope to continue to accumulate knowledge that will enable us to help them to survive for generations to come.
     A Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) entertained me as I waited to take pictures of the swallows.


     And it was joined by a Monarch (Danaus plexippus), a species which seems to be uncommon this year.



     A male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) came for a drink. I am assuming this is a bird we banded earlier in the spring.


     I know you will all join me in wishing our swallows favourable winds and a bounty of insects. May they grace our skies forever.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

West Perth Wetland, Mitchell, ON

28 July 2018

     Our good friend John Sanderson recently had hip replacement surgery and is recovering nicely. In order to give his hip a test drive, so to speak, we accompanied him and Geraldine to one of their favourite birding areas. John did well and his mobility has improved immeasurably since before the surgery. He didn't want to push it too much, however, so went back to the car to rest while we carried on with our birding.
     When shorebirds are migrating West Perth Wetland is a magnet for a number of species. Adult peeps (mostly Least (Calidris minutilla) and Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) were present - and they were too far out to identify other species if there were any - with hatch year birds to follow soon.


      In addition to the birds there was an abundance of Grove Snails (Cepaea nemoralis) and much as we tried to avoid stepping on them it was at times impossible, and whenever we heard a crunch underneath our feet we knew another had met its demise.


     Of ducks we saw many Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) but a lone female Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) joined the parade too.



     Both of these species breed at Mitchell and it will be another couple of months before the migratory ducks from the north begin to arrive.  
     Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was far and away the most common shorebird, as it generally is at this time of the year. It may be familiar but it is a handsome bird indeed and merits a full measure of our appreciation.



     We probably saw several Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) but they never stayed put long enough for us to be sure. There is no doubt about this one, however.


     A Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) and a couple of Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) seemed content to loaf around watching the sandpipers frantically gathering food.


     West Perth Wetland can deliver some lovely surprises from time to time (the first time we ever went there a Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in breeding plumage) and today we were treated to the wonderful sight of several splendidly attired Short-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus griseus) feeding away with their signature stitching motion.





     One might have wished for them to be a little closer, but we had great looks through the scope. It just wasn't as good as it might have been for photographs. Actually had Franc been with us, with his equipment, he would have had some wonderful captures.
     Semipalmated Sandpipers fed a little closer to shore.




     Least Sandpiper too.


     As much of a delight as the dowitchers was a Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus) still retaining vestiges of its breeding plumage. This is a bird that can be found each year, but not without some diligent searching.



     On the way back to the car a group of Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) let us know that they had a successful breeding season.


    When we shared our sightings with John he was delighted at our success. Next time we go to the wetland I have no doubt that he will be able to join us for more of the circuit and he too will have the kind of sensory top up we had.

     And now, if I may, let me address something totally unrelated, a topic that has been much on my mind of late. It is the use (misuse is more appropriate) of single use plastics. The sheer complacency of people now that I have been deliberately taking note is staggering. We seem to be hardly making a dent into this problem and we continue to flood both the earth and the oceans with this nearly indestructible detritus.
     It has to become an individual responsibility to reduce and ultimately eliminate it. 
     I am reminded that many years ago, when companies sent their management people to motivational seminars, I attended such an event in Calgary, AB where Ziz Ziglar was the featured proselytizer. Most of what he evangelized about was utter nonsense it seemed to me, but I do remember one point that left its mark. It was the concept of always measuring the inevitable secondary result of any action you take. He illustrated the point like this. He asked everyone in the audience to raise their hand if they had a piece of the pie served for dessert the previous night. There was a great show of hands. He then asked how many people were ten pounds or more overweight, and there was another great show of hands. He then said, "Well, when you made the choice to have the pie you made the choice to be overweight." One logically follows on the other. And so, when you continue to use single use plastic you are making a conscious decision to pollute the environment.
    So stop doing it. It is probably impossible to achieve 100% success but you can come close to it.  Let me give you one simple illustration of how great strides can be made easily. The other day I went to the store to buy red and green peppers, apples, bananas, green onions,  and a red onion. I took a cloth bag that Miriam made and put everything in that bag. Some shoppers put each item in its own plastic bag - the red pepper in its bag, the green pepper in its bag...and so on. That represents six plastic bags and then they go to the checkout and pay 5 cents for a plastic shopping bag to carry off the six other plastic bags. It boggles the mind. But this behaviour is repeated over and over again. When water in plastic bottles is on sale at the store shoppers leave with cart loads full. I see consumers pick up meat which is already on a styrofoam tray enveloped in plastic wrap, then place it in another plastic bag.
     Instead of buying individual little plastic containers of yogurt why not buy a big tub and use your own containers? Tell restaurants that use plastic straws that you will no longer take your business there if they continue to do so. Find coffee shops that will fill your own cup. 
     I shop at Costco and they are always shoveling food samples at everyone, served in little plastic containers with a plastic utensil provided, all of which are immediately thrown away. I cannot buy produce there. If I want to buy tomatoes, for example, they are prepackaged in a plastic box. Grapes are also in a plastic box, apples are in a plastic box or bag...and so on.
     The airlines have to start to address this problem and as consumers we can be influential. Think of the amount of disposable items used on every plane throughout the world every day. Our politicians need to change their habits. Each time a cabinet meeting is shown on television there is a plastic bottle of water at every chair. Do you all remember Trump's clumsy efforts to drink from a plastic bottle at the podium? Why couldn't that be replaced with pitchers of water and glasses?
     I could go on, but I am sure the point is made. There are countless ways you can stop using single use plastic and if we all do it there will be a very significant reduction. I hope the day will soon come when drinking from a plastic bottle will be as uncouth as spitting in a spittoon. Remember, that was once socially acceptable too.
    

    

Sunday, 22 July 2018

The North Shore of Lake Ontario

21 July 2018

     My day started well when I met Heather at SpruceHaven to band one nest of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and one of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis). The swallow nest contained five healthy young birds and the bluebird nest three equally robust youngsters and one unhatched egg.
     Miriam and I decided to pack a lunch and head down to Lake Ontario to see what we could find. We also took coffee and muffins with us and our first stop was at LaSalle Park and Marina since it was time for elevenses. We sat on a bench near one of the boat launching areas and were joined by this juvenile Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) in pristine plumage. What a handsome bird!





     As you can see in the fourth picture above the diminishing number of cigarette smokers still seems to feel no compunction about tossing their butts wherever they happen to be, without regard for the environment or even the cleanliness of the location. Their sense of aesthetic, or social sensitivity seems to be lacking to say the least. In other places we saw empty cigarette packets tossed on the ground. 
     A female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was feeding hungry chicks who were already well able to cope for themselves. 




     I guess like human teenagers, if there is a free meal to be cadged why not take advantage of it?
     A pair of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) with two offspring sailed by, leaving little doubt that younger goslings had been subject to predation of one form or another.



     After finishing our coffee and muffins we left for Bronte Harbour in Oakville, our principal destination for the day. Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) have nested in the harbour for many years, but it appears that all nesting attempts have failed this year. We saw only two birds and one of the nests, with a single egg, has obviously been deserted.


     There was the hint of another nest and one of the birds made a desultory pass at adding a bit of material to it, but without serious intent and both birds swam away.




     One of the outstanding features of Bronte Harbour over time has been a large and successful colony of American Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) with many nests, mainly on the wall of a restaurant. Sadly this has all ended; the swallows have been displaced by aggressive House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), an introduced species. Not a single active Cliff Swallow nest remains.


     At some point the restaurant installed a wire barrier to prevent birds from nesting and raining down poop on their patrons, but the House Sparrows have exploited a breach in this defence and have built a traditional untidy nest behind it.


     This unfortunate individual became entangled and died in a futile attempt to free itself.


     A pair of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) had but two young to chaperone and protect. Curiously, one of the cygnets was already pure white, when normally young swans retain their grey plumage until much closer to adulthood.



     Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) are a fixture on the breakwater, in between bouts of fishing, interspersed with Ring-billed Gulls and we saw one American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus) also.





     Few people, it seems to me, pay much attention to gulls, yet close examination reveals stunning beauty, as evidenced by this pristine Ring-bill.



     Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are always present at Bronte, although there were fewer today than is normal. Perhaps the main cohort was farther out on the lake fishing.





     Our last stop of the afternoon was at Paletta Park in Burlington where it was apparent that American Robins (Turdus migratorius) have had a fine breeding season, for many juveniles were around.



     There were also many Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens), sometimes in little groups of three or four, but all were adults.




     Several Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) flitted around in the dense vegetation, alternating between revealing themselves and disappearing again.



     The highlight of our visit to Paletta was a pair of adult Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) feeding a recently fledged group of offspring.



     Was this parent singing for joy?



     The young birds waited patiently and the adults never failed to deliver food.




     It is evidence of the range expansion of this species to see these family groups. I can remember thirty or forty years ago when Carolina Wren was such a rarity that one would almost dance a jig upon discovering a single bird. Now it is no less delightful than it has ever been, but certainly no longer a rare event.
     We enjoyed a fine day together and headed home well-contented. We relish our outings with our various birding companions, and always look forward to them, but once in a while a little exploration together is just the ticket!