Friday, December 12, 2014

Northern Mockingbird (Moqueur polyglotte)

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Toronto, ON
12 December 2014

     I have fond memories of making a regular annual trip in years past to Niagara-on-the-Lake to find three specialty birds for the Province of Ontario, Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus, Tufted Titmouse Parus bicolor and Northern Mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird

     This was the only area in the province where one could reliably expect to find, after a little searching to be sure, these three species normally associated with more southerly regions.
     Now the distribution of all three species has become far more widespread, and Northern Mockingbird may regularly be encountered in the Toronto area, and several confirmed nesting sites have been documented. There are a couple of spots where I am quite certain of locating this species if I take the time to search diligently, or, if as was the case this morning, it comes to greet me almost as soon as I park the car. Humber Bay Park West was where I found this individual today.

     It was feeding on the berries seen in the pictures, and for the longest time was half-hidden, as it found the most appealing part of the crop I suppose. Finally it moved upwards and posed briefly for the photographs you see here.
     It is a handsome bird, characterized by large white wing patches when it flies, but capturing a mockingbird in flight is far from easy. 
     So far the winter has been quite benign, but even through last year's brutal conditions, the species seemed to survive and by now no doubt has a population acclimatized to our conditions.
     As regards the other two species mentioned above, Red-bellied Woodpecker, has become quite common in many areas, and we have even had it visit our backyard feeders on a few occasions. Tufted Titmouse is nowhere common in the province, but it can be encountered with a reasonable degree of regularity in Haldimand County.
     The other area I have often encountered Northern Mockingbird in the Toronto region is Colonel Samuel Smith Park, but this morning I was unsuccessful. The following shots show the extent of the snowfall experienced yesterday.

     Winter is part of what makes us Canadian and today was a classic day; sunny, bright and the temperature slightly below freezing; a day to be enjoyed by mockingbird and human alike.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

White-winged Scoter (Macreuse brune) and Others

Lake Ontario
7 December 2014

     Today Miriam needed to go to Carlisle and Burlington, so, since it was a fine sunny day, I decided to go along with her and we did a little birding afterwards.
     Our principal quest was for scoters which by now are starting to populate Lake Ontario, as they do each winter. We were successful in finding two species, White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca and Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata; Black Scoter Melanitta nigra eluded us, if indeed it was present. It is at all times the most difficult to locate and appears in much small numbers than the other two species.
     There are huge rafts of ducks on Lake Ontario at this time of year, some quite monumental, and today we were treated to some of these large aggregations of diving ducks. Unfortunately, they were quite far out, certainly not what one would consider within good camera range. However, when dealing with nature you cannot control the subject, and we worked with what we had.
     Scoters are among the most enigmatic of ducks, in my opinion, with their outlandish bills, as can be seen in the following pictures of a Surf Scoter which came a little closer to shore than his chums.

      The following picture will give you an idea of the variety of ducks to be found in these large concentrations and you can see Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Greater Scaup Aythya marila, Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, and, up at the top left corner, a Surf Scoter.

     This picture shows male and female Greater Scaup, of which there were at least a thousand present at this location alone.

     Again I present a Surf Scoter, this time keeping company with Common Goldeneye.

      These ducks are constantly diving and rarely seem to come up without a mussel in their bill. It certainly attests to the rich feeding ground that Lake Ontario provides for these species which will spend the entire winter on the safety of its waters.

      At the Canada Centre for Inland Waters several Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator were present, some with young.

     Observe the size difference between the Trumpeter Swan and a male Bufflehead Bucephala albeola.

     At least four American Black Ducks Anas rubripes were spotted, although it looks as though the top bird in this picture may be a hybrid Black Duck/Mallard.

     When we left the Canada Centre for Inland Waters we had to wait in a long line of traffic because the bridge was raised to let a lake freighter pass from the open expanse of Lake Ontario into Burlington Bay.

     It was a great couple of hours of birding. Perhaps next time that elusive Black Scoter will be top of the list.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Redhead (Fuligule à Tête Rouge) on Lake Ontario

Mississauga Sailing Club
Mississauga, ON
4 December 2014


      The Redhead Aythya americana is a relatively large diving duck, sometimes confused with the larger Canvasback Aythya valsinaria,  but it is in all plumages smaller, darker and shorter necked than a Canvasback.

It always seems to bring a special sense of joy when Redheads start to appear on Lake Ontario and today I was very happy to locate this small group.

They were feeding on abundant Zebra mussels and no doubt have now taken up residence for the winter. I will look forward to visiting with them often.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Couple of Raptors in Haldimand County, Ontario

30 November 2014

      For many years, near the town of Fisherville, there was a certain location where sightings of multiple Short-eared Owls Asio flammeus were virtually guaranteed. I don't know what has happened since the last time I was there about ten years ago, but I could find not a one, and upon checking recent reports, it appears that other birders have had a similar lack of luck. This was a spot where at times one could see around forty birds at the same time, flitting around like giant moths in the crepuscular gloom, and the habitat seems to be unchanged, so what has caused them to move on is a bit of a mystery. There were many rodent burrows in the grass so the prey base seems to still be intact.
     We were sitting watching the feeders at the Ruthven National Historic Site in Cayuga, when this Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii made a pass at a Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura feeding on the ground. It missed its target! 

      Predictably, when it perched on a nearby branch, the feeders became very quiet in a hurry. However, the hawk made no attempt to snag this Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula  when it appeared, so perhaps it had fed well earlier, and even the swoop on the Mourning Dove was more reflexive than a serious attempt at capture.


     Just outside Hagersville, we watched a couple of Northern Harriers Circus hudsonius quartering the fields in search of prey. One bird, a female, dropped down on a vole and carried it off beyond photographic range. This male perched briefly on the ground before lifting off again and trying his luck at finding food. I managed a couple of quick shots. The result is quite awful I must confess, but since this is the first time I have ever succeeded in getting a picture of this species, I include it for the record.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Birds of the Conestogo Dam

29 November 2014

     It was a pretty grey day on Saturday, but Miriam and I decided that we would go out to see whether we could find any Snowy Owls Bubo scandiacus, since the first arrivals have already been reported in some locations.
     We did not succeed in our Snowy Owl quest, but at the Conestogo Dam there were large numbers of birds, especially Common Mergansers Mergus merganser,  Ring-billed Gulls Larus delarensis and Mallards Anas platyrynchos, with a few other appealing species thrown in for good meaure.

Common Mergansers
     It was really interesting to see the patterns formed on the water by the vees created by individual birds intersecting to create a kind of grid.

     Ring-billed Gulls, as might be expected were especially numerous.

     This is a location where it is profitable to scan for rarities such as Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, but none were to be found on this occasion.

    Here are the gulls massing with Mallards on the outflow side of the dam.

     I think that this must be my Northern Pintail Anas acuta period, for another handsome male was present among the hundreds of Mallards.

     Most of the mergansers stayed fairly far out but a few co-operative individuals came in closer to permit better photographs.

    Perhaps these three decided that single file was a better way to travel!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Roundup of the Past Two Days

Toronto, ON
27/28 November 2014

     The days were grey for the most part as I scoured the various bays and coves along the shore. The image of downtown Toronto across the lake was seldom out of view.

     I was looking for duck species that might have arrived since my last forays along the lake, species such as Canvasback Aythya valisineria and the three species of Scoter, but none were to be found. There were several rafts of ducks far out from shore and without the benefit of a scope at the time I could not identify them. Even had I had my scope with me the ducks were far out and identification might still have been impossible, but scoters are likely at this time of the year. 
     You may recall that I recently located a Canada Goose Branta canadensis wearing a green neck tag and I found yet another. It is hardly surprising, perhaps, since they were almost certainly marked in the same natal region and probably journeyed south together. I am still awaiting news as to where these birds originated.

     As I look at this neck collar I must admit to being a little repulsed by it. It looks ugly and would seem to impede the bird's ability to preen. I watched it feeding and it appeared not to hinder this activity in any way. 

Note added on 3 December: I have been notified that this bird is a female and was banded in Ottawa, ON by Christopher Sharp on 11 April 2012.

     American Robin Turdus migratorius is primarily migratory, and most have now departed, but there are always some birds that exploit micro climates and abundant berry crops, and spend the winter in our area. So long as they are able to find food they seem to withstand the cold temperatures without difficulty.

     Most Trumpeter Swans Olor buccinator one sees have large yellow wing tags, so it was particularly pleasing to see this individual sans adornment.

     American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus are now well established along the shore of the lake and I think I saw them at every location I checked.

     I am always particularly sad when I see an injured bird that I am unable to help. The only thing one can hope for under such circumstances is a speedy end for the suffering bird. This American Black Duck Anas rubripes appeared to have a severely broken leg and could neither walk nor swim. 

     No doubt it is entirely fanciful on my part, but at one point several Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis appeared to encircle it in some kind of protective fashion. None of them showed any aggression to a defenceless bird as might perhaps have been expected.

     Ring-billed Gulls were common, of course, loafing both on land and on the water.

     Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis have colonized Lake Ontario for the winter and will be an almost guaranteed sighting any time one visits the shore. There were several little groups close inshore and their chattering was a delight to the ears. How handsome is this male!

     Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator are also very common and easy to find. In fact yesterday all three species of merganser were not difficult to spot.

     Now it remains to see what surprises await on the next visit.

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.