Friday, 27 August 2021

Book Review - The Complete Birds of the World - Princeton University Press


     I must confess that when I was first notified by Princeton University Press about this book, and saw on the cover "Every species illustrated", I was skeptical as to how such a task could be successfully accomplished in one volume. How could the more than 10,700 species be compressed into a single book without the images looking like scrambled eggs?
     The answer is now before me!
     By judicious use of space, and the creative arrangement of the pictures, each species is indeed illustrated - and illustrated very well. The images are clear, sharp, precise and leave no doubt as to the identification of the bird. Furthermore in species that are sexually dimorphic, both sexes are shown.
     I tested the efficacy of the images grouped together on the pages by examining several families where similar looking species might easily lead to confusion, and was unerringly able to pick out species without difficulty. In a tableau of hummingbirds or woodpeckers, for example, a simple glance was all it took to find familiar species. The quality of the illustrations is that good.
     We should not be surprised, of course, since the principal illustrators (better that we call them artists actually) are the legendary Norman Arlott and Ber van Perlo, maestros who have set the standard for bird illustration in so many field guides. The supporting cast of Jorge R. Rodriguez Mata, Gustavo Carrizo, Aldo A. Chiappe and Luis Huber, have proved their worth in other guides too, especially those dealing with South America and Antarctica.
     There is a great deal of sensory satisfaction to be gained by looking at the pages and taking it all in. The sheer diversity of avian life registers into your consciousness, and you relive the reasons why you were drawn to birds in the first place - for some of us as far back as our earliest memories. The beauty of it all is reinforced and at times the birds seem ready to spring from their perch and fly off the page.
     A brief (necessarily brief in fact) description is provided on the page opposite the illustrations; sufficient, however to describe the bird and its habitat.
Typical is the entry for Australian Swiftlet Aerodromus brevirostris: 11-12cm. Breeds in colonies in caves. Cup-shaped nest comprises plant material glued together with saliva and stuck to cave wall. V. Squeaky, twittering calls. H. Feeds over forests and open habitats, most sea level to 500m D. Queensland. All you need to know in a few words!
     The taxonomy followed is the IOC World Bird List, now being adopted by more and more ornithological authorities around the world, and a list I have used since its inception. 
     This is a bold and imaginative work and one that bears the courage and conviction of its authors. I cannot imagine that anyone with even a passing interest in birds would not benefit from this tome - and if you are a world birder you will want to have it ready on the bedside table so you can take a look before even getting out of bed in the morning!

The Complete Birds of the World: Every Species Illustrated
Norman Arlott, Ber van Perlo, Jorge R. Rodriguez Mata, Gustavo Carrizo, Aldo A, Chiappe, and Luis Huber
Hardcover - US$65.00 - 9780691193922 - 640 pages - 25,000 colour illustrations - 8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.25 x 27.5 cm)
Publication date: 7 September 2021

Monday, 23 August 2021

A Trail, A Sewage Lagoon and Home

 15 August 2021
Health Valley Trail, Waterloo, ON

     There is a local trail called the Health Valley Trail (not quite sure how it got its name) that runs for about 4.5 km between Waterloo and St. Jacobs. We had not entered from the Waterloo side for a couple of years so we decided to give it a try.
     There seemed to be a bit of a congregation of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) and when they gather like this there is likely carrion in the area.

     Who knows what might have been on the menu? Rotting guts of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) perhaps.

     Ah, to thrust one's head into the body cavity! Delicious!
     Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is both prolific and beautiful and seems to be at its peak right now.

     It found great favour with many insects, including this Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens).

     Alfalfa Plant Bug (Adelphocoris lineolatus) made the point that it is not always confined to alfalfa.

     If I am not mistaken the following fly belongs in the family Sarcophagidae (flesh flies).

     What it finds to its liking on Tansy I am not sure.
     Common Green Bottle (Lucilia sericata) is a very handsome species, but is at times implicated in the spread of disease.

     Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) is by way of contrast both benign and lovely.

     We spotted Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) quite frequently and will look forward to seeing the fruit a little later in the year.

     Dark Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus) is surely one of the most handsome of all the Hymenoptera.

     A bumble bee of indeterminate identity foraged for nectar.

     We were very happy to see this moth alight for enough time to have its picture taken. It was a new species for us, Two-banded Petrophila (Petrophila bifascialis).

     It is rarely that an Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas) perches with wings outspread and we were delighted to be able to capture a picture.

     Usually the folded wing look is all we get.

     Common Ringlet (Coenonympha california) was, as the name implies, common.

     Common Carpet Moth (Epirrhoe alternata) was also not difficult to find.

     Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) was ubiquitous, but flitting hither and thither and rarely landing. Finally a male cooperated.

     There were many Common Water Striders (Aquarius remigis) zig zagging on the surface of a small pond, and it is really interesting to see the form of the shadow they create.

     If you look carefully in the picture above you can see one of the insects near a white spot in the bottom right quadrant.
     An American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) seemed far less interested than we were.

     A Groundselbush Beetle (Trirhabda bacharidis) is very attractive.

     It is a type of skeletonizing beetle but other than that I know little of its lifestyle.

     There were many birds, but the vegetation was dense and obtaining photographs was not at all easy. The following image of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) will show you what I mean.

     Several species of Tyrant Flycatcher (Tyrannidae), some surprisingly vocal for the time of year, but frustrating from a photographer's standpoint, were not shy. Finally a Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) perched in clear view.

     It took Miriam at least twenty minutes of dogged determination to get this shot.

19 August 2021
Our backyard, Waterloo, ON

     An Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) found the phlox in the backyard exactly to its liking.

     It burrowed right inside the flower to get that last drop of nectar.

19 August 2021
Milverton Sewage Lagoons, Milverton, ON

     A dedicated birder seeking shorebirds can think of no odour more pleasant than a little eau de sewer on a hot day in late August. "To follow your nose" never had a more apt meaning.
     With migratory shorebirds in mind we went to Milverton in anticipation of a bonanza. What did we find - nada, rien, nichts, nothing, zilch, zippo! A wasteland, or a waste water might be more appropriate, both literally and figuratively.

     When we first arrived in fact, there was not a single bird of any description on the water. When you can't even find a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) in Canada one wonders what cataclysmic event might have occurred!
      There were Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in a tree, however, so all was not lost.

     A Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) no doubt sensing our angst came and perched conveniently close to us.

     Then the show began! I am not sure how many Halloween Pennants (Celithemis eponina) there were but I don't think that over a hundred would be an exaggeration.

     As pennants are known to do they showed tremendous tenacity in clinging to an elevated perch, even in strong wind, and even if they left it for a brief interlude, they quickly returned. 

     By now the absence of a few shorebirds seemed quite trivial!
     A Broad-leaved Sweet Pea ( Lathyrus latifolius) might well have been named Broad-smiled Sweet Pea for us!

     What a beautiful little flower when viewed close up.

A male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) was very handsome.

     What would an August day be without a Common Ringlet?

     Or a Clouded Sulphur?

     Carolina Grasshoppers (Dissosteira carolina) exploded from underneath our feet.

     I am not sure what to make of this Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) with its exuvia. It has clearly past the teneral stage and acquired adult colouration, but remains in place and appears to have an injured left forewing. Might a bird have attacked it? If so, why would the bird not finish the job and eat the dragonfly or carry it back to its young?

     I am grateful to Richard Pegler for discussions on this matter.
     A Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchela) is a very handsome dragonfly.

     Widow Skimmer is equally impressive and this male exhibits excellent pruinosity.

     Now what was it we first came for? Shorebirds, you say? Well, it seems to me that we didn't have a bad day without them

19 August 2021
In our house, Waterloo, ON

     Is a fly in a house a House Fly? I think not, but I can't get anywhere with the ID of this one.

     It may have to remain a mystery!

Thursday, 19 August 2021

At Home and a Morning at SpruceHaven

09 August 2021
Our backyard, Waterloo, ON

     Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are daily visitors to our backyard, and this handsome male makes a statement!

     You could be forgiven for thinking that he looks a little grumpy, but a couple of minutes later he was singing his head off!     
     A male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is a smart looking bird too.

     A female Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) would find it hard to compete with the cardinal or the finch in the good-looks department, but she is a welcome visitor nonetheless.

     I have tried as best I can to identify this arachnid, without success. If you know what it is, feel free to leave a comment.

13 August 2021
Our backyard, Waterloo, ON

     Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) is a frequent victim of cowbird parasitism and in years past we have seen these tiny birds feeding gargantuan cowbirds. This year, however, we have on several occasions observed adults feeding their own young, so perhaps they are developing effective strategies to combat the cowbird cheats.
     These two are gazing skyward for some reason.

     They did not appear alarmed and we saw no predator in the sky above them, so what they were looking at will forever remain a mystery.
     A third individual was perched nearby.

    The following American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is probably a female, based on the muted colouration.

     Females are generally duller overall with browner black on the head, but I have never found this to be entirely reliable, and somewhat subjective. For all practical purposes males and females look the same.
     An Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) was industrious - as bees are supposed to be.

     You may recall from my last post that a Northern Cardinal was seen feeding a fledgling Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrush ater). Here we see a male cardinal with his own young.

     As is the case with human children, food is usually top of mind.

     Give me more!

     There seems to be every indication that he will grow up to be as handsome as his father.

14 August 2021
Berlett's Road, Wilmot Township, ON

     On the way to SpruceHaven we generally travel along Berlett's Road, which at times can be pleasingly birdy. 
     We often see Wild Turkeys (Melegris gallopavo) and this flock seems to have become particularly tame around one of the houses that borders on a forested area.

     I have no doubt that they had consumed all the seed that had spilled from one of the bird feeders and were relaxing in the warm sunshine of an August morning.

     We parked at the side of the road quite close to them and they seemed not the slightest bit perturbed.

     Wild Turkeys buck the trend of species in decline; they have done spectacularly well in recent years and are now a common sight.


     A little farther along four juvenile Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were perched on a wire; three left as soon as we spotted them, but one remained behind for a picture.

     In wet areas near the ditches Spotted Jewelweed (Imaptiens capensis), so important for hummingbirds fuelling up for migration, lined the verges.

     Usually it is difficult to get anywhere close to American Crow (Corvus brachyrynchos), but on this occasion, using the car as a blind, Miriam managed some quite decent shots.

14 August 2021
SpruceHaven, St. Agatha, ON

     Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a wonderful native plant that attracts bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators. 

     I am always happy to see it and it is established in several locations at SpruceHaven.
      Common Eastern Bumblebees (Bombus impaties) could be found all over it.

     To identify grasshoppers down to the species level is a bit daunting for any but an entomologist specializing in the taxon. The best I can do with the following species is to assign it to the large genus melanoplus.

     The grasshoppers were so numerous that many exploded in front of us as we walked, conjuring images of plague numbers that must defy belief.
     Many species of Echinacea populate prairie ecosystems, both moist and dry, and it is very exciting to see the number of species that have taken root in our emergent temperate grassland biome.
     Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is exceptionally striking to my eyes.

     Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is not quite so entrancing.

     As already mentioned identifying grasshoppers as to species is not easy, and I am certainly reaching the boundaries of my knowledge when I attempt it, but it is challenge to try, and the process of learning is always enjoyable.
     There is more than one genus of Smooth-horned Grasshoppers; I am pretty sure this is one of them, but I am not sure which!

     Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanica) is obviously not restricted to goldenrods.

     Ambush bugs, in the subfamily Phymatinae are superbly camouflaged as they lie in wait for their prey. We spotted Pennsylvania Ambush Bug (Phymata pennsylvanica) several times.

     You will note by looking carefully there are two bugs here, in copula.

     Camouflage seems not to be a major concern in the ecstasy of the moment!
     Grey-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is one of the prairie species that has become established in the grassland; wonderful to behold.

     Appropriately enough, one of its alternate common names is Prairie Coneflower.
     Many areas are awash with gold, with False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) nodding in gentle breezes or bending to the power of stronger winds.

     It is impossible not to be moved by the beauty of it all.....

     ..... and to wonder what it will all look like a few short years from now.

     A Great Spangled Fritillary (Speraria cybele) found everything to its liking.

     Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) foraged at will.

     Western Honey Bee (Apis melifera) was no less dedicated in its quest for nectar and pollen.

     A male Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea) was perched on top of a conifer across the road from SpruceHaven.

     Wild Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) is sometimes referred to as Indian Lettuce, in reference to the fact that its leaves were boiled by First Nations people to make a kind of tea, albeit quite bitter.

     Stable Fly (Stomoxys calcitrans) is an impressive insect. Don't get bitten by one, however - it hurts!

     Their preferred hosts are cattle and horses, but they display little hesitation in turning their unwelcome attention to dogs and humans.
     The following larva has eluded all my attempts to identify it.

     The fly below is found in the genus Poecilanthrax.

     Daisy-like Annual Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) was quite common throughout.

     This Western Honey Bee appears to have had a successful bout of foraging judging from the load in its pollen baskets.

     Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis) is known to establish easily so it was no great surprise, yet no less of a pleasure to come across it, a recent component of the grassland.

     Various species of thistle (Genus Cirsium) are equally adept at propogating themselves, and though their seeds provide an important food source for birds such as American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) they are aggressively invasive, and we may have to devise ways of removing them.

     A Black Blister Beetle (Epicauta pensylvanica) is known to favour yellow plants, as seen here.

     The web of Argiope spiders are wonders of architecture, and in the fall when early morning dew is a daily feature, meadows glisten with them.

     A Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) found foraging to its liking.....

     ..... as did a Northern Corn Rootworm (Diabrotica barberi).....

     ..... and a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

     Pinkweed (Persicaria pensylvanica) is an attractive plant and a target of pollinator insects.

     Unfortunately it has the potential to swamp entire areas, as has happened at the spot we refer to as Teen Hollow.

     We will have to put our heads together to see whether some form of remediation is possible.
     Common Eastern Bumblebees are nothing if not industrious.

     A hyper-abundance of Pinkweed is probably to their liking, if not to ours!
     It was difficult to slog through the Pinkweed down to the ponds which are reduced in size due to relentless summer heat, but a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) justified the effort.

     A friendly Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) was unperturbed by our presence.

     Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina) is numerous and the easiest  grasshopper to identify.

     We saw Common Ringlet (Coenonympha california) fluttering daintily above the grasses, alighting now and then.

     False Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus turcicus) is a very attractive little animal.

     Cabbage White was very common, and this male perched nicely for us.

     The sighting of a One-spotted Stink Bug (Euschistus variolarius) was a first - always exciting.

   Barn Swallows have had a successful year and many youngsters were waiting for long-suffering adults to come and feed them.

     Finally, I offer you a Tarnished Plant Bug (Lygus lineolaris), a serious pest of fruits such as strawberries, peaches and apricots. 

     We enjoyed discovering the bug, but we don't have to deal with its destructive consequences.
     It will be plain to all who read this account that our restored grassland, which just three summers ago hosted a soybean crop, has become a veritable centre of biodiversity.
     I am giddy just imagining what is still to come.  

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.