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Sunday, 12 December 2021

Waterloo Region Nature Outings, Columbia Lake, Waterloo, ON

     The latest in the series of outings I have been conducting for WRN recently saw us visit Columbia Lake. As always, there was a mid week venture for people who do not have the daily grind of a job to occupy their time, and a weekend jaunt for the benighted souls who do.

 08 December 2021

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Lynn Conway, Pauline Copleston, Lisa Den Besten, Bob Fraser, Beth Hobson, Graham Macdonald, Marg Macdonald, Geoff Moore, Rog Suffling, Judy Watson, Kathy Waybrant

Lynn, Graham, Lisa, Geoff, Marg, Rog, Pauline, Bob, Beth, Judy, Kathy

      It was a crisp minus seven degrees as our hardy group of winter warriors set out to see what birds wished to join us on our snowy promenade.
     Miriam was unable to join us unfortunately, but she was evidently sorely missed, for I answered a barrage of questions asking, "Where's Miriam?" Not a hint of "How are you, David?", it was all about Miriam. I sighed, pouted, stamped my feet, gnashed my teeth but carried on resolutely, knowing exactly what chopped liver feels like!
     Bob was concerned that our star photographer was absent, and that there would be few pictures to memorialize the glorious day - and he was right. Thank goodness for files of adventures past!
     Initially, there were few birds either seen or heard, but as the walk progressed it got better. 
     We saw many stands of Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobulata) and for the first time saw Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) feeding on the seeds, extracting them from the globular pods and holding them in their feet while hammering away, in normal chickadee fashion.


     This was really interesting since the seeds of Wild Cucumber are known to be toxic, and even hallucinogenic, to humans. Chickadees obviously are immune to the danger. We should not be surprised, I suppose, since vultures have stomach acids that can deal with anthrax, and Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are able to feast on berries containing the cyanogenic glycoside amgydalin in concentrations that would be lethal to humans.
     It was a snowy December day in southern Ontario; but we plodded on, enriched by lively conversation with naturalist friends. 


     To paraphrase Robert Frost, the woods were lovely, dark and deep.


     And we had about another kilometre to go before we turned around to wend our way back.
     

     There is an expansive, open area at one side of the path, and Lisa who lives close by and walks this area often, had no sooner finished stating that she had never seen a harrier there, when, through the snowflakes, and at the far limit of our vision, a bird, a ghostly spectre, sped through. 
     A Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonicus) we shouted! Hooray! Then I started to have doubts. Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) coexists with Northern Harrier, both preferring the same habitat and hunting the same prey. "I saw the white rump," said Lisa. "It was merely a pale part of the back," said I. It had been almost an apparition through the curtain of snow that was falling, but I was pretty sure the underwing pattern was of a Short-eared Owl. I waffled a bit but kept coming back to Short-eared Owl.
     Kathy Waybrant who normally carries her impressive photographic equipment at the ready had stashed it in her backpack to protect it from the precipitation, but was able to quickly get it out to shoot off a few images. As might be expected, the pictures were not of award-winning quality, given the conditions, but the one she sent me was clear enough to identify the bird as a Northern Harrier!
     I now owe the smug Lisa a coffee and I have little doubt that the corners of her mouth will henceforth be attached to her ears!
     Here from my archives are a few pictures to illustrate some of the species we saw.

Northern Harrier ♂

Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) and Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Black-capped Chickadee

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) ♂

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)


     We had a fabulous morning together, taking in the best of what nature has to offer. My fellow walkers are the finest people you can meet and it was my pleasure to spend time with them.
     As I complete this first part of the outings to Columbia Lake, the weather for Saturday does not look promising. If the predicted rain does not arrive I will be reporting on another walk with other dedicated naturalists.
     Keep your fingers and toes crossed with me!

12 December  2021

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Victoria Ho, Janet Ozaruk, Curtiss MacDonald, Henriette Thompson, Selwyn Tomkun

Selwyn, Victoria, David, Henriette, Curtiss, Janet

     The threat of dire weather on Saturday materialized, more in the form of extremely strong winds than the predicted rain (as Victoria is wont to remind me), but we were able to move the outing to Sunday. Unfortunately, Mary Ann, Ross and Walter had prior commitments for Sunday, but those of us who could make it did, and had a great morning together in classic weather for southern Ontario, clear, barely a hint of wind and a temperature flirting right around zero. 
     No doubt, this area was once a farm and the grain silo stands as a silent testament to the past.


     The highlight on the water was a stunning male Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). I was anxious to have Henriette have a good look at this handsome duck, but she had no binoculars. Curtiss, whose middle name is Kindness, went back to his car to retrieve his spare set, and Henriette quickly accustomed herself to them and used them to great advantage.


     All eyes were directed to the water, seeking a female merganser, but none was to be found.



     Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) verged on commonplace, a little higher than we might have liked for pictures, but entertaining nonetheless.


     I would like to give a shout-out to a couple who join most of my walks and who are the most agreeable participants any outings leader ever had.
     This is not to in any way give short shrift to others, but it registered on me today just how much pleasure I derive from having Selwyn and Victoria join me so frequently.


     They are scintillating companions, always filled with good humor, intelligent conversation, and radiate the joy of being out and about in nature.
     See you again next week guys!
     Yet another Red-bellied Woodpecker, a tad ruffled by a little wind at those lofty heights, put in an appearance.


     Nearby, an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in muted winter plumage was seeking food.


     Black birds are always very difficult to photograph, and Miriam did a great job with this image of an American Crow (Corvus brachyrynchos), I think.


     The sleuths in our group found these tracks, presumably of deer.


     The imprint is narrow and pointed and I can't think what else it might be. 
     As was to be expected, with Miriam along on the walk, more pictures were taken. She managed this exquisite sequence of Black-capped Chickadees extracting Wild Cucumber seeds as described above.
     Most pods had already been exploited and this beautiful lacy remnant is the result, worthy of a Christmas tree ornament it seems to me.


     The following four images show the progression of activity as the chickadee extracts the single large seed which superficially resembles a black sunflower seed.





     The husk is surprisingly tough and the process of digging into it was quite noisy. I don't recall ever having seen pictures of this activity; certainly it is a first for us.
     Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) looks especially attractive at this time of the year.


     The trail beckoned us on.


     We had a wonderful time together. Perhaps this walk was an early Holiday gift for all of us.
     It certainly was for me.    

59 comments:

  1. Oh, I simply love the photo of Blue Jay in the snow! The photo of American Crow was very beautiful too, David. Miriam is a very good photographer, David.
    Hugs, Marit

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    1. I will pass on your praise, Marit. Thank you. Hugs, David.

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  2. You've shared some very nice photographs, and I especially like your last one.
    Oh, to be walking along that path ... wonderful.

    Have a good week ahead.

    All the best Jan

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  3. Guilty as charged! However, I must add that Geoff and I conferred together to stick with the Northern Harrier ID, and in that manner I had the confidence to agree to our jovial bet.
    Thank you for taking the time to write your posts. I (and clearly many others) thoroughly enjoy reading them.

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    1. I am glad that you enjoy them, Lisa. See you next Sunday.

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  4. It sounds like a kind, companionable group and the photos are far better than your opening paragraphs led me to believe! Now I know the secret -- say "I've never seen a ...." and it will appear. Or maybe it only appears when you bring your magic touch to it. If that's the case, I'm in trouble!

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  5. Thank you again David for a fun walk with lots of new things to learn! I too really enjoyed seeing the chickadees eating wild cucumber. What a treat!

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  6. Thanks, as always, for a couple of splendid hikes! Rog.

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    1. My pleasure, Rog. It's always great to have you along.

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  7. Pretty cold! Has been around -7 here for a couple of weeks too. But with the right clothes and good company, it's not so bad. Lovely little Chickadee and Blue Jay!

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  8. Your cardinal shot is my favourite.

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  9. No wonder people miss Miriam more . Look at the beautiful photos she takes, especially on this trip. Thanks Miriam.

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  10. Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my.
    All the photos are stellar but I can see why everyone (including you) missed Miriam. And the wild cucumber series is incredible...

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  11. You saw lots of great birds and other sights again. I've never even heard of wild cucumber, so learned something new again. But how dare Miriam just stay away? Very remiss of her, but you, as a true hero, fought the good fight all alone with your remaining acolytes, well done! Keep walking, keep looking for birds! Hugs, Valerie

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  12. I'm feeling rather proud of myself, having recognised almost all of the birds photographed today; as I've never been to Canada I must have absorbed their identities by reading your blog. The Chickadees have quite a job on there, extracting those seeds.

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  13. All looks good, love that capture of the Northern Cardinal.
    Looks bleak but walking all rugged up would keep you all warm.

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  14. Il est vrai que le fruit vidé du concombre sauvage est vraiment joli, on aurait envi d'en accrocher chez soi.
    Les photos dans la neige sont très belles, encore des sorties vraiment sympas!
    Bonne journée

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  15. Hermosas salidas invernales ¡qué frío! pero estupendo para encontrar aves bonitas y sorprendentes.
    Muchos besos.

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  16. Great to see you out and about ,still in cold weather!Much birds to see I quess!

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    1. As you know, Anita, living in a northern climate does not mean that you can't get outside and enjoy nature.

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  17. I depend upon hardy birders and their zoom lenses to see most of these birds, and you've met my enjoyment well today!

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  18. The series of black-capped chickadees and the seed pods are exquisite! It looks like it was a wonderful, and invigorating walk!

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  19. Very beautiful photos not only of birds but of the terrain in Canada. I looks so cold, too cold for me in Hawaii.

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  20. I agree with your participants - every walk should have a Miriam. You should take comfort, however, in that a walk would not be a walk without a David to pass on his knowledge - even if he does get it wrong sometimes! ;-}

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    1. I suspect we all get it wrong sometimes, and what would a good walk be without some lively controversy?

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  21. A walk at -7 degrees can only be beautiful.
    I especially like the photo Cyanocitta cristata.
    PS - a few tens of seconds a day. ;)

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  22. What a wonderful outing you all had and enjoyed. The photos of all the birds is outstanding. Another great day spent with lovers of nature.

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  23. It's always a pleasure to read your reports and to watch your wonderful photos.
    Your group looks very friendly and kind.

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  24. Una hermosa salida invernal y que imagino de bastante frío, pero vosotros ya estáis acostumbrados a la nieve y a las bajas temperaturas. Es bastante normal que echaran de menos a Miriam, igual pasaría contigo amigo mío, y en ese caso aún sería peor, ya que no gozarían de tan buenas explicaciones.
    Siempre un placer disfrutando virtualmente de esos parajes y de vuestra agradable compañía.
    Un gran abrazo amigo y compadre David.

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  25. Always lovely to spy with you. :)

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  26. Hello David
    you can see exactly how much fun you had together, whether cold or warm, nature is unique in every weather
    Greetings Frank

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  27. There is no doubt that you have some pleasant and rewarding excursions.

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  28. Great series of shots of the Chickadee working hard for his meager meal. What a truly remarkable little bird.

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  29. A wonderful outing with your bird watching companions. The bird extracting the wild cucumber seeds is interesting. Yes, it will make a good Christmas tree ornament.

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  30. Hi David - one shouldn't question one's guests ... Harrier it will be - and yes it is! All those birds could happily hang as ornaments on our trees - but they're so much better in the wild. The cucumber is extraordinary isn't it - and must be used in decorations somewhere. So pleased you had those outings - it is beginning to look cold in your neck of the woods. Great to see the photos by you and mainly Miriam - cheers Hilary

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  31. Wish I could be a part of such a joyful looking group.

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  32. Nature is spectacular thanks for these photos

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  33. This is a big gathering in my book. Looks like the postal people have nothing on bird watchers who love venturing out in all kinds of weather.

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  34. A beautiful winter walk where you saw some wonderful birds.
    Greetings from gray, cloudy Poland:)

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  35. When I looked at the first photo in the post, thought you are all heartier souls then myself, David. Thankfully, you all persevered and this post is the result. Hope Miriam's absence wasn't caused by any illness, funny to read your comment about being made to feel like "chopped liver" as she as missed by all.

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    1. We hardly think of minus seven as a cold day, Beatrice, and I know you would be no stranger to frigid winter days in New Hampshire. A couple of years ago we started a group walk such as this one at minus seventeen. The coldest I have ever birded was at a temperature of minus 32. Now that was cold! We found our Snowy Owl quickly and returned to the car, keeping our fingers crossed it would start. It did! As for Miriam's absence, it was to help out one of her sisters, nothing untoward at all.

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    2. I should also add that two of the people in that picture are in their eighties.

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  36. Siempre maravillosas tus caminatas. Gracias y besos.

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  37. nice outing. :) Lovely birds and, seem to be dangerous to feed on the sticky seeds. :)

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  38. Wonderful walks in delightful company. I am beginning to feel part of the group recognising names of the walkers as well as the birds. I very much enjoy your style of writing.

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  39. I'm always astonished to see you gallivanting about in such weather, and then I take another look at photos of you all and remember that you have clothing that makes it possible! it's a delight to see the snow, as well as the birds. It truly is a different world, and it's fascinating to see how many birds are able to cope quite well. Reading your blog helps me to worry less about our birds when it turns what passes for "cold" here!

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  40. Fabulous photos. The hooded merganser is a handsome guy. And wow, Miriam's chickadee photos are wonderful. I love chickadees. Even if they are not rare, they are always so happy to see me fill the feeders. I like to talk with them and they seem to like to talk back. Thanks for sharing. Hugs-Erika

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  41. Un reportaje precioso, me han gustado mucho todas las fotos y en ellas se puede sentir todo el frio que hay en tu zona del planeta. Enhorabuena amigo David, aprovecho para desearte una "Feliz Navidad" y todo lo mejor para el "Nuevo Año". Un fuerte abrazo desde el norte de España.

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  42. Hello,
    Great outings and beautiful photos. I love the birds and landscapes. The Chickadees are one of my favorites, they are so darn cute. Take care, enjoy your day!

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  43. The snowy scenes are just what I would imagine, so beautiful but I hate to be in. I am sure I would enjoy being there if I could get use to the freezing temperatures. I can't imagine the mallard and canadian goose just going about their routine and not feeling the cold! The sequence of the chickadee extracting the seed is so clear and amazing - great composition. What ever you have pixs of the cardinals which are my favourite, I think of those Catholic cardinals going about in their scarlet robes but not as cute as the birds!

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    1. In cold temperatures you can dress wisely and stay warm. Excessive heat and humidity is impossible to escape, and very debilitating I find.

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  44. What a wonderful outing David! Oh chopped liver...lol...that was funny. The photo of the Blue Jay in the snow, so beautiful. I can't bear to be out too long below zero anymore...I know I'm a wimp! lol...it's the wind though, even when I'm in layers and in my snow suit!

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  45. David - winter excursions are some of my favorites - easier to see birds without leaves, and the gorgeous structure of bushes emerges! Thanks for sharing your adventures with all of us!

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  46. Hi David,
    Great time outdoor in good company! You met some amazing birds!
    Happy sunday,
    Warm greetings,
    Maria

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  47. Beautiful winter outing, with beautiful snowy landscapes and both with cloudy skies or with very blue skies, both conditions I like. Winter is a time that I really like and I enjoy watching birds, although it is surely much more intense where you live. By the way it is a visual refreshment to alleviate the heat that is around here now
    Saludos

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