Sunday, 15 September 2019

Annual Visit of Waterloo Region Nature to SpruceHaven

14 September 2019

Leader: David Gascoigne

Club members participating: Miriam Bauman, Shirley Bauman, Betty Brechun, Theo Byrne, Catherine Campbell, Lynn Conway, Daniel Entz, Fraser Gibson, Anne Godlewski, George Greer,  Brad Hale, Cathy Hale, Bill Hall, Victoria Ho, Dale Ingrey, Nina Ingrey, Adriaan Kemp, Barb Kemp, Denise Leschak, Hugh McCaul, Louise McCaul, Alan Morgan, Anne Morgan, Janet Ozaruk, Meg Slater, Frank Steinmoeller, Marj Steinmoeller,  Henriette Thompson,  Selwyn Tomkun, Don Voisin, Mary Voisin, Andrew Wesolowski, Lorraine Wesolowski, Stephen West, Susan Youngson.

Guests: Nicholas Bauer, Sarah Colter

     Judging by the impressive attendance for this annual outing I can say with confidence that this is the most anticipated event on the Club's schedule. There was a nucleus of regulars supplemented by many members visiting for the first time, and a couple of guests.

      Everyone is not in the picture above, but it gives you an idea of the level of participation.
     We always begin our day's activities in the barn which houses our Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) colony, which is where it really all started.

     This majestic old structure is looking quite grand this year having received  a fresh coat of paint and repairs where necessary.
     It is a great pleasure for me to have so many people interested in what we do and to explain the full scope of our monitoring and research activity.

        Newcomers are filled with knowledge before they leave and veterans of this event are always happy to learn of improvements in tracking devices, and to hear of discoveries we have made during the season. There is no doubt that these birds still hold many secrets we have yet to discover.
     The swallows have all departed for South America, but the nest below reminds us that they called SpruceHaven home for another breeding season. Given the conflagration in the Amazon, and the uncertainty of the conditions awaiting these migrants, it is unclear how many will survive to return next spring. It is with no small measure of sadness that we contemplate the  future of Barn Swallows and other aerial insectivores, when it seems that anthropogenic interference and continued habitat degradation and elimination, renders their existence ever more precarious -  to say nothing of the poor choices we continue to make in electing our political "leaders."

       We moved outside to continue with our walk and it seems that Selwyn Tomkun was anxious to point out something to me.

     We have installed numerous boxes for Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) and have had a reasonable level of success in attracting these charming little owls to use the boxes as winter roosts, but so far none have bred in them.

     We continued with our walk.

     And there was more to do in terms of explaining the various programmes we have underway at SpruceHaven and the success of our nest boxes.

     This past season Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) fledged record numbers of young and we also had great success with Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). We continue to be motivated to help cavity-nesting species who find fewer and fewer natural nest sites and we have plans to erect more nest boxes this fall in readiness for next year's breeding season.
     We were lucky to have Fraser Gibson on hand to explain the features of the latest advances in beehives.

     The "jewel in the crown" this year is the conversion of approximately forty acres of farmland to native grassland. Soil samples were taken and the land seeded with the mix of plants that would have been characteristic of a tall grass prairie at the time of European settlement of our area.

     It looks a little weedy right now, but as the new growth establishes its dominance this will start to change. We have a reasonable expectation that by next year we will attract Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), followed by other grassland species in succeeding years. It is a very exciting prospect.
     Already I have noticed an increase in Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), and Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows were seen hawking insects over the field , and Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were feeding on the ground in large flocks . When Kevin and I were banding last weekend Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) flew overhead.

     There was more to explain!

       Everywhere is awash with Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at this time of the year, and it is both beautiful to see and provides rich foraging for butterflies and other pollinators.

     A Wooly Bear Caterpillar was seeking a place to hibernate for the winter; it will pupate in the spring to emerge as an Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).

     These fungi on a tree were very interesting, but I am afraid that I am unable to identify them.

     We went into the woodlot to introduce everyone to our salamander monitoring project.

      I was lucky that under only the second board I turned over there was a cooperative Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) for all to see.

          It is a measure of the deep interest that our group has in the natural world, that very few participants had dropped out along the way, and those that faltered did so only due to mobility issues and not from any lack of interest.

     It was time to head to the house for coffee and refreshments and we wended our way across the future grassland, slowly I might add, as everyone stopped to check out every treasure that revealed itself.

      I am sure I am not the only one who cast a glance across this rolling terrain with visions of a tall grass prairie blowing in the wind a few years hence.
      Everyone enjoyed warm Westfall/Hill hospitality and relived the events of the day and marvelled at just what SpruceHaven has come to mean to us all.

     Dave, Sandy and Jamie have proven themselves to be true visionaries and custodians of nature. Their commitment to habitat restoration and the preservation of the natural world extends far beyond what one might reasonably expect from even the most dedicated conservationist. As one who gets to deal with them every day I am constantly reminded of their largesse, the magnanimity of their philosophy and their fundamental decency.
     I know that you will all join me in saluting these champions. It is a privilege to have them in our lives.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Tuesday Rambles with David - West Perth Wetlands, Mitchell, ON

12 September 2019

     Miriam came back early from her stay at a friend's cottage on Lake Huron, so she joined Judy, Mary and me on a visit to West Perth Wetlands at Mitchell, in Perth County.

     It was a little cool, and frequently overcast, but we had a decent morning of birding, although the conditions for photographs were not great, and the birds in general were not close.
     Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is usually the most common species at this time of the year, and today was no exception. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) was also present, albeit in much reduced numbers, but Miriam managed to get a couple of shots of the two species side-by-side giving an excellent comparison.

     Furthermore, Greater Yellowlegs was far more cooperative than usual and here are a couple of excellent shots of a single bird.

     The yellowlegs have arrived from their breeding territories in the Arctic, but Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) breeds locally, and there were many of them in the wetland, no doubt now preparing for migration.

     We saw also a couple of diminutive Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), close enough for great views through the telescope but too distant for decent photographs.

     One of the highlights was a group of four Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) all feeding vigorously.

     There were several flocks of both Least (Calidris minutilla) and Semipalmated Sandpipers (C. pusilla), again frustratingly far from the camera, but here is a shot for the record. Least Sandpiper is the world's smallest sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper is only marginally bigger. You can see how large the Kildeer looks by comparison.

     Butterflies were out in force with Monarchs (Danaus plexxipus) being especially noticeable. 

     Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) was hardly less abundant.

     The photographic record of this outing does not do justice to the fine range of species we saw, and it was a very pleasant morning spent with good friends. It has often been said that the best picture is the one in your mind, and we certainly have many of those to savour for as long as we wish to recall them.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Bird Banding at SpruceHaven and Plastics

08 September 2019

     Just Kevin and I met to do a little bird banding and as is my normal practice I am showing below pictures of birds we have not previously trapped this fall.
     Our very first bird in the nets was a Veery (Catharus fuscescens), perhaps the most beautiful of all the Catharus thrushes, although I confess that this assessment is entirely subjective. The photograph does not do the bird justice.

     It should be noted, with a good measure of consternation, despair and disgust that these birds, along with other species covered in this post, are winging their way southwards to spend the northern winter in Amazonia, which is burning, entirely due to political ignorance, indifference and human greed at its worst, and the willingness of the voters of many countries to elect right wing ideologues who dismiss climate change.
     What will happen to these migratory species when they arrive at their wintering grounds? Where will they go? What will they feed on?
     All of these questions remain to be answered, but it is clear that they are going to be in serious trouble and many will not return next year.
     Our warblers are now embarking on the hazardous business of migration, this Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina) being among them.

     The state of Tennessee seemed to feature prominently this morning with the capture of this Nashville Warbler ( Leithlypis ruficapilla) also.

     The third warbler captured was a female Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens).

     These tiny gems, these little jewels that brighten our lives every year, were already in substantial jeopardy due to habitat loss and numerous other factors. The widespread conflagration in Amazonia will only exacerbate already precarious conditions and at some point they will cease to survive.

All species banded 08 September: Grey Catbird (3), Veery (1), Song Sparrow (7), Tennessee Warbler (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), Black-throated Blue Warbler (1). Total: 15 individuals of 7 species.


     Please click on the link below.

     If this does not shock you then I think you have pretty much lost the capacity to be shocked. The scope of this problem is enormous and our environment, both on land and in the oceans is being affected by plastic pollution.
     Yet you can do something about it. Easily. Tomorrow. You can't solve the problem entirely, and you can't remove plastic from your life entirely, but there is a great deal that you can do; indeed you must do.
     You can refuse to use, ever, under any circumstances a plastic water bottle. It is very easy to fill your own bottle. You can refuse to eat at restaurants that use disposable plastic cups and lids, plastic straws, styrofoam plates and the like. Please tell the owner of the restaurant why you are doing this and you will see that changes will start to take place. When you go to a takeout coffee chain insist that they fill your reusable cup and decline their plastic lined paper cups and lids.
     Take your own cloth bag to the grocery store and use it instead of plastic bags. There is no need to put a tomato in one plastic nag, an avocado in another, an onion in another, and so on. Take your own bread bags to the bakery and refuse their bags.
     You can start on all of this right away and you can set an example for your friends and family. The time for excuses and rationalization is past.
     If you are unwilling to do this you have effectively signed a pledge that you do not care one iota for the health of the planet, the state of the environment, the future of your children and grandchildren. You have made the declaration that you are a willing contributor to the tide of pollution entering our oceans and clogging our landfills (and some of these materials leach toxic substances and will be around for 500 years). The decision is up to you.
     But this issue threatens the very future of life on the planet and the quality of our food. I hope that you will be on the right side of history.