Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild Turkeys in Suburbia

Wild Turkeys Thrive
in Suburban Waterloo
15 September 2014

     While checking a few of my regular birding spots I came across a flock of at least twenty-one Wild Turkeys Melagris gollopavo a mere stone's throw from a complex of townhouses. The area in which I located them is at the edge of a residential area and appears to be slated for development itself (we are paving over the whole world). Most of these birds were hatch year birds and the reproductive capacity of this species is prolific. It is a hardy species, surviving our harsh winters, and its numbers have exploded in recent years. And this for a bird that thirty or so years ago was not present at all in the province. 
     It had been extirpated by over-hunting and an exchange was made with the State of Michigan - turkeys for moose. Michigan had the same experience with its native moose as we had with turkeys, it had been hunted out of existence.
     The picture below is not great, but it was the only one I could get as the birds exploded out of one area of scrubby bush and headed for another. It is quite incredible how quickly they can move.

     A stately Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias at another location nearby was a tad more photogenic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Juvenile Merlin

Juvenile Merlin Falco columbarius
Waterloo, ON
14 September 2014

     Yesterday, with a real hint of fall in the air, I decided to visit a few local spots where I bird frequently.
     The highlight was this juvenile Merlin, which not only provided great views but treated me to a display of its awesome flying skill and aerial

    It presented a veritable air show as it veered and twisted, plunged and banked back upwards in true mastery of its realm. After each little sortie it returned to perch on the same snag and preened. It seemed to have little interest in hunting at the time.

      In any area of damp ground beneath the trees fungi were to be found aplenty.

     The berry crop is prolific this year and I was surprised not to find hordes of Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum  feeding on them. Wild grapes seem to have done especially well as the following pictures attest.

     I know that some varieties make excellent preserves, but there are toxic look alike plants, and I am not proficient enough to tell them apart so I leave them for the birds!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tagged Great Egret

Tagged Great Egret 
Waterloo, ON
12 September 2014

     As I mentioned in a recent post Great Egrets Ardea alba begin their annual appearance in this area as post breeding dispersal occurs, with some birds even moving north from their more southerly breeding locations.
     This bird was seen on 12 September in Waterloo and was in the same location yesterday. I am attempting to find out where it originated, but so far I am having no luck. As soon as I am able to determine where it was tagged I will add a line to this post.

     As might be expected juvenile birds abound at this time of the year and this young House Sparrow Passer domesticus clearly shows its gape.

     Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum have been plentiful of late with large flocks of juveniles roaming together.

     Like all children, there needs to be the odd adult to supervise!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Insect Successes

Fields of Goldenrod and
Nectar for Everyone!
7 September 2014

     At Princess Point in Hamilton, Goldenrod was in full bloom in meadows where it has been left undisturbed. Not surprisingly, this bonanza provided copious amounts of pollen and the insect pollinators were hard at work, collecting nectar and in the process doing the important work of pollination.

     As has been noted in a recent post I was delighted to see a couple of Monarch butterflies at Grass Lake. I was even more delighted to see many, many more hovering over the field of gold, and landing and feeding at will. It was indeed encouraging to be able to glance around and see Monarchs in all directions. There was still nothing to rival the swarms of yesteryear, but it was wonderful to see more than I have seen in several years.
     It truly is a vision of beauty and set against the panoply of gold seemed ever more serene.

     This grasshopper was numerous also, and is probably in the genus Melanoplus, but I have been unable to identify it as to species. If anyone can help please leave a comment below.

     What was also very heartening indeed was the sheer number of Common Eastern Bumblebee Bombus impatiens all impressively laden with pollen. They looked for all the world as though they were toting saddlebags! 

     In addition, there were numerous flies, damselflies, butterflies and other insects and it seemed for a moment that a small corner of virgin wilderness had been created in an urban centre. If one closed one's eyes the sheer buzz of insect sound was music to the ears, a true symphony of nature.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tiny Wetland on Beaver Creek Road, Waterloo

Beaver Creek Road
(A Gallery of Herons)
Waterloo, ON
7 September 2014

     Once again this year the tiny wetland on Beaver Creek Road is delivering more variety than one might reasonably expect for an area so small, completely surrounded by houses on three sides, and the road on the fourth.
     Three species of heron were present, and I suspect four. Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, the commonest of all was absent from view, but with so much tall vegetation to hide behind, it may well have simply not been visible.
     As I have mentioned before this is not the easiest place for photography but the following shots will at least record the activity observed there yesterday.
     I observed three Black-crowned Night Herons Nycticorax nycticorax, two adults and one juvenile. None were in a great position for picture-taking, the adults with sunlight streaming down on them, giving a bit of a washed out look to their plumage, and the juvenile skulking in the dark overhang of a bush.

     I saw but one Green Heron Butorides virescens but it very obligingly flew up from its concealment in the rushes to a perch where I could shoot off a few frames.

     In years past as soon as post-breeding dispersal of Great Egrets Ardea alba starts to occur, up to four have been regular visitors to this wetland. The bird shown below is the first to take up occupancy this year.

     The marsh also provided a stark reminder that fall is just around the corner.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Annual Cicada

Annual Cicada
4 September 2014

     At this time of year the constant background refrain of cicadas is a familiar sound in southern Ontario. Rarely, however, do the insects seem to reveal themselves. Miriam and I were sitting on the patio when this one landed close by.

     Neither of us knew what it was and a search of the literature did little to elucidate the situation. Thanks to Mike Burrell for help in identifying this creature.
     It belongs in the genus Tibicen which contains a large number of cicadas in varying colour morphs and the precise taxonomy as to species level is far from clear.
     The Latin word Tibicen means flute-player or piper - a pretty adequate description of this musician it seems to me. It certainly added an interesting aspect to a pleasant summer afternoon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Colonel Samuel Smith Park
Toronto, ON
3 September 2014

     I found myself with about a half hour to kill while waiting to go to an appointment, so I decided to do a little birding at Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

The birding was very slow indeed with a true paucity of both species and numbers, but I observed this Eastern Garter Snake in the water.

     While most snakes have the ability to swim, and some species are primarily found in or close to water, I had never previously seen a Garter Snake in water, nor is this behaviour mentioned in the two references I have on my shelves. This species which is quite common in southern Ontario can attain a length of 66 cm and I would conjecture that this individual was approaching that size. I cannot recall ever having seen a bigger specimen.

     I observed the snake for about four minutes and it made no attempt to locate prey as far I could tell, and small minnows, and doubtless frogs were in the area. It finally moved into a stand of dense phragmites and disappeared from view.

Literature consulted:

Conant R. and Collins, J.T., 1998, Reptiles and Amphibians East Central North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY

Cook, F.R., 1984, Introduction to Canadian Amphibians and Reptiles, National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, ON