Sunday, November 23, 2014

Recent Bird Sightings

Waterloo County, ON

     The recent cold snap which was felt over much of the continent has ended, at least in this area, and we now have grey skies and rain. I very much prefer cold temperatures and snow! Right now the snow is turning to slush and in some areas there is danger of flooding.
     Despite the weather, I have managed a few interesting shots, principal among them this gorgeous little American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea which was feeding on the seeds of weedy plants near Creekside Church.

     This hardy species breeds in the far north, on the taiga and tundra, nesting in dwarf willow, stunted birch or spruce. Following the breeding season it migrates south and spends the winter at our latitude. One of the favourite pieces of art that I have is of a single individual perched on a branch, almost devoid of leaves - a sure sign that fall has arrived.
     As might be expected our bird feeders have been well-patronized of late, and the following image shows an adult House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus at the left and a juvenile at the right.

     Here you see the little feather tufts on the juvenile's head, the last remnants of its down.

     American Goldfinches Pinus tristis are regulars; some have not yet lost all of their yellow breeding plumage.

     This shot illustrates the size difference between American Goldfinch and House Finch.

     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis can always be counted on to snag the seeds dropped onto the ground by the other birds.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Northern Pintail (Canard pilet) and Pals

Cunningham Pond
Maple, ON
20 November 2014

     Given the truly unbelievable proportions of the snowfall on Buffalo, NY over the past few days, we escaped relatively lightly. We don't share the lake effect which gives them so much precipitation, but geographically we are not far away. 
     It is still a full month until the winter solstice, but recent temperatures in our area have dipped to minus 12 Celcius and snowfall has been significant. Most small ponds are now completely frozen over and even larger areas of still water have significant ice cover.
     This was the situation at Cunningham Pond this morning. I would estimate that 90% of the surface water was frozen.
     Canada Geese Branta canadensis and Mallards Anas platyrynchos occupied the open water, with large numbers compressed into a small area.

     I scanned the flocks carefully and was rewarded when I caught the merest glimpse of a Northern Pintail Anas acuta behind a Canada Goose.

     Most of the birds were resting, with relatively little movement, so I waited patiently until a the inevitable squabbling started to occur and the birds shifted position. I got a better look.

     After a few more minutes several of the Canada Geese started to flap their wings and immerse themselves in the water and I was rewarded with a clear line on this male Northern Pintail, a bird which I have had very little success photographing in the past.

     I was happy that I had decided to wait it out.

     As might be expected many gulls were present also, including several American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus, recently arrived in this area.

     Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis seemed to be pretty content to simply snooze on the ice.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Today's Feeder Birds

Waterloo, ON
19 November 2014

     There's nothing quite like a good snowfall and cold temperature to increase the traffic at the bird feeders. Today was no exception. It was rarely that we looked out to find no birds present.
     This handsome male Northern Cardinal secured a place at one of the feeders and fed for quite some time before flying away. He should be well fortified for a while.

     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis tend to feed primarily on the ground, but at least one male and one female seem to have become accustomed to taking their place at the feeders. These pictures are of the male.

     A White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis has become a regular of late and visits the feeder in rapid bursts. It quickly gets food, either eats it immediately, or more often flies off with it to cache it under the bark of nearby trees. In short order it returns to repeat the process.

     This Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura was perched in the birch tree, puffed up against the wind, waiting for enough seeds to have been scattered on the ground to make it worthwhile to land and eat.

     This squirrel had the same idea and seemed to be finding lots of seed buried beneath the snow.

Winter Humour

     I usually don't post this kind of stuff, but this one really tickled my funny bone, especially so when I look out at the blanket of snow everywhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning (LALL)

Wondering As We Wander: A Geographical Journey Through Our Physical World
Professor: Jerry Salloum

     Waterloo is very fortunate to have two highly acclaimed universities, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. 
     Laurier has a wonderful programme aimed specifically at having adults, especially seniors, continue on a learning path for their entire lives, and they present a whole range of courses covering many disciplines and interests.
    Thus it was that I signed up for the above course this year. It comprised a series of six lectures, each running from 09:30 through 11:20. The fee is a very modest $70.00, well within the reach of most people. The course was completely sold out.
     Our lecturer was Jerry Salloum, a person well versed in earth sciences and a wonderful, engaging fellow who presented the material in a fabulous way so that everyone became immediately engrossed in the course.

Jerry Salloum
     I looked forward to every session with eager anticipation and the fact that all the seats were filled indicates that everyone else did too. I was there simply to learn - no exams, no labs, no pressure. The quest for knowledge was the only prerequisite.

     Here is the programme which Jerry presented:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Learning: Wondering, Transfer and Defamiliarization.
Lecture 2: Wondering about the biggest entity of all - The Cosmos.
Lecture 3: Investigating our closest natural satelite - the moon.
Lecture 4: Journeys to a high altitude world - Mount Everest.
Lecture 5: Secrets uncovered in the ocean floor - sea floor spreading.
Lecture 6: Probing treasures in the earth's largest ice cube - Antarctica.

     We were on the edge of our seats for each session. I learned so much and had my eyes opened to theories, facts and concepts that I had never before considered. 
     Ironically, today, the final session, had the smallest participation of any class, principally due to the fact that we had an overnight winter storm with substantial snowfall, and the temperature when I left home was minus eleven degrees Celcius.
     Here are a few pictures of other members of the class.

     Break time was often spent talking to Jerry.

     Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, Jerry wears his course on his head!

     And a couple of other participants.

     I will be checking out the next round of courses carefully, but if Jerry's name is attached to any of them, that might just be reason enough to sign up.

Muskrat (Rat Musqué)

Martin Creek Road
Waterloo County
16 November 2014

     Miriam and I observed five Muskrats in the creek from which the road presumably gets its name, and all seemed to be busy getting ready for winter.
     The Muskrat is the largest of the North American rats and is one of the important fur bearers. In former times it was trapped extensively, and still is to a limited extent, but the wearing of fur has fallen out of favour in recent years, so many are left to live out their lives in peace.
     Both sexes have large anal glands which become greatly enlarged during the breeding season and emit a distinct musky odour; hence the name.

     Muskrats build their own lodges, or use bank dens,  and assemble a winter storage of food, but it has been revealed only recently that they will also share a lodge with American Beavers Castor canadensis. Presumably some kind of commensal relationship has developed for cameras placed inside the beaver lodge have revealed that the Muskrats engage in cleaning activity and also deliver food.

     Overnight the temperature dipped to minus eleven degrees, so we hope that the family (we assume) we saw stayed warm and dry inside its lodge.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Waterfowl and Other Water Birds Part 3

Lake Ontario
Toronto, ON
13/14 November 2014

     This is the final installment of a couple of days visiting the lake to revel in the spectacle of the build up of ducks and other species. There are still several species to be expected that I did not see yet, but these three reports will give you an idea of the sheer variety of birds the Great Lakes hold in the winter.
     Greater Scaup Aythya marila arrive in huge numbers and at times rafts of this species alone number in the thousand. Fortunately many of them are quite close to the shore during the daylight hours so photographing them is relatively easy.

     American Wigeon Anas americana are usually present too, although not often in high numbers and careful scanning is often required to turn up this attractive species.

     This duck was often known by the common name Baldpate, referring to the line down the centre of the head which looked to some like a man's bald head.

     Mute Swans Cygnus olor rule the waterfront and no one messes with them. They are present year round and seem to handle the winter with aplomb.

     Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawrensis are omnipresent and seem to fare well whatever the weather brings. They gather food from the water themselves, steal from other species and benefit from people who bring food down to the lake. 

     Horned Grebes Podiceps auritus are unlikely to spend the winter here but this singleton was sighted among the Greater Scaup.

     Redhead Aythya americana is quite common, but they seem not to have arrived in numbers yet. I could only spot a few and they were fairly far out.

     As usual, there were large numbers of Canada Geese Branta canadensis both in the water and feeding on the grass, including the individual seen below with the large neck band. I have reported this sighting to the appropriate authorities and as soon as I am notified as to its origin I will add that information to this post.

     This concludes the series on the birds of Lake Ontario. It is by no means inclusive of all of the species one might expect, but I believe it gives a good idea of the rich diversity found here to those unfamiliar with our area.
     We are a northern people, winter is a fact of life here, (we received 2-3 cm of snow overnight) so the only thing to do is to get out and enjoy it.