Monday, 27 June 2016

The first of "our" Barn Swallows (Hirondelles rustiques) leaves the nest

26 June 2016

     We all assembled again to band the final four nests of young Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica with a few additional interested observers. 
     I must say again that Kevin has been absolutely obliging in terms of having an audience watch him band these birds, and has answered questions patiently and made sure that the children have enjoyed the experience and learned a good deal in the process. 
     The nestlings we have already banded are now within hours of leaving the nest, and are starting to crowd each other out.


     Here they are with their little rear ends all directed away from the nest to ensure that their droppings are shot over the side.


     Miriam was again handling the camera chores for me and she captured Kevin's banding skill very nicely in the following images.






     This little bird seems to have had enough to do with the nest and is ready to explore the world outside.


     Stephen Trink brought his two daughters Abigail, nine years old, and Emma, seven years old to watch the operation, and here they are along with Marilyn Burch, a friend of Dave and Sandy, carefully observing the goings on.


     These two little girls were absolutely fascinated by the birds and couldn't resist holding one.


     There is a degree of wonder, quite unrivalled by other experiences, in having intimate contact with wild creatures. This is especially true when children are involved and sometimes it is enough to trigger a lifelong connection to nature. I certainly hope that it turns about to be the case with Abigail and Emma, polite, engaged and delightful girls, who were anxious to participate and learn. I hope to see more of them and help them with their enjoyment of the natural world.
     Inside the barn no less interested observers and helpers watched Kevin return the banded brood back to their nest.

Josh Pickering, John Lichty, Kevin Grundy, Emma Trink, Marilyn Burch

     We had been observing this nest full of young birds.......




     .........when one decided that it was time to make an exit and flew over to a nearby perch.


     Within minutes it had moved over to the window and was feeling the first wind ever to ruffle its feathers. 


     This little bird is about to face the most dangerous segment of its young life as it learns how to cope with the world outside, and masters all the skills it takes to be a Barn Swallow. We wish it well!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Deer Mouse (Souris sylvestre) in my backyard

23 June 2016

     The Deer Mouse Peromyscus maniculatus derives its name from its bi-coloured coat, rufous above and white below, which resembles the coat of a deer.


     It is a very common species, although seldom seen due to its nocturnal habits. I was surprised, therefore, when sitting on the patio in the early evening, to see this little creature emerge from under a low evergreen shrub.


     Deer Mice show considerable differences in size and body mass and the long-tailed variant seen here is an arboreal species, the tail being prehensile, making the animal well-adapted to life in the trees.


     The Deer Mouse is a sociable animal and will take readily to living with humans, becoming an engaging little pet. This individual and I will get along well together as long as it doesn't come into my house, however! 
     Many a lonely trapper living for months alone while working a trapline in the north has enjoyed the company of a Deer Mouse or two in his cabin; no doubt the mouse derived reciprocal pleasure too.


     The birds on the feeders knock down quite a bit of seed as they feed which is no doubt what attracted the mouse.

American Goldfinch Spinus tristis


     It was a hot, humid day and this American Robin Turdus migratorius seemed to take great pleasure in a vigorous soaking in the bird bath.


      A Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula surveyed the scene from on high before coming down to take its turn at the feeder.



     Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis are ubiquitous in suburban habitats and this adult was still accompanied by a youngster.


     A couple of Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia have been regular visitors to our yard this year and they make sure that they receive their share of the bounty.


     This Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata visited the bird bath but only to drink and not to bathe. No doubt this species does bathe, but I can't remember ever having seen it do so.


     A pair of Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus raised a brood in our yard this year and the family still visits from time to time. The feeders provide an easy source of food for parents still occupied with feeding young birds as they transition to full independence.


     I have not seen the Deer Mouse since but I hope that it is still around. It is an engaging little creature and very welcome to share our yard.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Barn Swallows (Hirondelles rustiques) at SpruceHaven, Banding Operation # 2.

19 June 2016


     Nestlings that had hatched nine days earlier were ready for banding and so it was that a group of interested people gathered at 09:30 to watch Kevin Grundy demonstrate his skills.
     Chief among the observers were Sandy and two of her grandchildren. 

Oliver, Sandy, Annabelle
     Annabelle has already declared that she wants to be a scientist and has made it known that she won't have time to get married or have children - or any of that stuff - she plans to be far too busy making scientific discoveries. Since she has an insatiable curiosity, and takes notes about everything, we took down one of the old, disused Barn Swallow Hirundo rustico nests for her. We also gathered some egg shells from the floor below nests containing young, all of which she will add to her stash of treasures. Anything we can do to encourage this inquisitive, probing mind is all to the good.






     Kevin in his normal careful fashion removed the young from the nest into the security of a cardboard box with a lid and took them to the table to be banded and recorded.


     As can be seen the young birds are rapidly developing feather tracts and they were feisty and not at all happy about being removed from the snug confines of the only home they have ever known.


     The children crowded in close so as not to miss a thing.


     Kevin was wonderfully patient and explained everything he did to an attentive audience while simultaneously banding the young birds with alacrity and precision.


     At times we thought that Annabelle was glued to Kevin's hip! She certainly watched the whole process very intently.


     As you might imagine the children were anxious to hold a young bird and after cautionary instructions from Kevin he very carefully placed them in their cupped hands.



     They were entranced with this intimate contact with young birds and no doubt would have much to talk about with their classmates at school the next day.
     I am sure you noticed a green ring on Oliver's finger. No, we weren't banding the children too! The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Canada-US Migratory Birds Convention and special commemorative bands were issued. Kevin had brought one for each of the children. I thought it was a unique souvenir and I was very happy that Kevin had an additional one which now sits on my shelf.
     Kevin holds the birds in the prescribed fashion and even though it doesn't look very comfortable the birds suffer no harm and are soon banded.



     Once the banding of the entire clutch is complete the birds are placed back in their nest.


     The adults at another nest continued to stuff insects into the hungry mouths of their offspring all the while the banding was going on. Given their long association with humans Barn Swallows are not especially disturbed by our presence, although they certainly let us know they would prefer that we were not there. In days past Barn Swallows were an integral part of any working barn or cow shed and the comings and goings of cattle, horses and humans were simply part of the daily routine.


     When we checked the nests as they progressed from eggs to young we used a mirror to count the young and monitor their progress wherever there was sufficient clearance to do so.


     Since Annabelle is such a dedicated little naturalist Miriam decided that she should have a special bag in which to collect the treasures she finds on her nature walks. Of course, it has a nature theme, as befits a young scientist in waiting, and here is Annabelle proudly holding her bag.



       This whole Barn Swallow project has been a textbook operation so far and we have every expectation that it will continue to be so. If we can educate the children in the process it is certainly a bonus for everyone involved.
       Many thanks to Miriam for taking these pictures while I was occupied doing other stuff.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Carden Alvar, Kawartha Lakes, ON

16 June 2016

     Accompanied by John Lichty, Miriam and I made our annual trip to Carden Alvar.
     This is a destination that we may have to seriously reconsider in future years, even though it is a wonderful place to visit and there are some special birds there, not found in other locations or found with great difficulty anywhere else in the province. Any time one has to use the expressway (what a misnomer!) across the top of Toronto the traffic is a huge problem. It is getting worse and is on the verge of being unbearable. One can easily lose an hour or more barely moving, often being stopped altogether.



     We arrived at our destination much later than we had hoped and were glad to get out of the car and stretch our legs.


     One of the first species we saw was Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna albeit fairly distant.



     We first heard and then watched a Kildeer Charadrius vociferus fly over to a rock where it seemed content to perch as though acting as a sentinel.


     House Wrens Troglodytes aedon were very common, as they always are, but seemed particularly willing to show themselves on this visit. Several were seen carrying food to their nestlings.



     Many Red-winged Blackbirds Agelaius phoeniceus were present in the marshes, the males looking especially handsome as they defended their harems and protected their territories.


     There is a section of the wetland that has become colloquially known as the Sedge Wren Marsh since it has for many years been home to a couple of breeding pairs of this species. We were unable to locate a Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis there but a couple of Marsh Wrens Cistothorus palustris were not shy at all.



     Eastern Kingbirds Tyrannus tyrannus were very common indeed.


     And Grasshopper Sparrows Ammodramus savannarum could be found with a little dedicated searching.


     Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis is one of the signature species of Carden Alvar with many nest boxes being provided; incredibly we could only locate this single female.


     There is a good deal of water at Carden Alvar, and it was amusing to see a couple of Green Frogs Lithobates clamitans using ephemeral ponds in the dirt road in preference to the wetland. Perhaps something not readily apparent to me was to their liking.


     As might be expected Savannah Sparrows Passerculus sandwichensis were quite common, but not always in the best position for photographs.


     Carden Alvar is one of Ontario's treasures and a place I have enjoyed visiting many times over the past thirty years or so.



     Given the hassle of getting there, however, I fear I may never visit it again. I think it is time to exploit some new areas south and west of here with rich treasures of their own.